By Nils Skudra
As a fan of the Harry Potter franchise, I always enjoy watching scenes from the films or reading excerpts from the books. One character I am especially intrigued by is Hermione Granger, Harry’s academically gifted and fiery best friend whose intellectual skills prove vital in the success of their numerous adventures throughout the saga.
Observing Hermione’s portrayal in both the books and the films, the thought occurred to me that a case could be made for Hermione having either Asperger’s Syndrome or ADHD, given her unique intellectual strengths and her social difficulties which often make her an annoying and irritating but nonetheless a strong-willed and inspiring character. Since individuals with Asperger’s and ADHD tend to exhibit these dual characteristics, I felt that this topic merited an examination, particularly considering the newly emerging trend of depicting empowered neurodiverse protagonists in film and television.
When Hermione is initially introduced in the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and its film adaptation, she quickly makes a bad first impression on Harry and Ron through her bossy, know-it-all demeanor and critical observations of Ron’s cleanliness and his haphazard attempts at casting spells: “Are you sure that’s a real spell? Well, it’s not very *good*, is it?” and “You’ve got dirt on your nose, by the way. Did you know?”
During the early days of their first year at Hogwarts, she continues to annoy them by reciting at length what she’s learned from books; at one point, the book states, she “bored them all stupid” with these recitations. This leads Ron to snap when Hermione corrects him in a very obnoxious way during their Levitation class: “No, no, stop, stop, stop! You’re going to take someone’s eye out. Besides, you’re saying it wrong. It’s LeviOsa, not LevioSAH.”
This interaction, combined with Hermione’s successful performance of the spell, prompts Ron to mock her know-it-all affect and remark, “She’s a nightmare, honestly! No wonder she hasn’t gotten any friends!” However, Hermione overhears this insult and flees to the girls’ bathroom, where she cries incessantly before Harry and Ron save her from a troll, which marks the beginning of their lifelong friendship.
Some of Hermione’s social tendencies are illustrative of the challenges that Asperger’s and ADHD individuals have with social etiquette. People with Asperger’s Syndrome often display difficulties with catching social cues, as well as a tendency to engage in lengthy monologues about their subjects of specialization without consideration for other people’s level of interest. In addition, children with ADHD often talk excessively, due to their challenges with hyperactivity-impulsivity control, and might interrupt or intrude on their peers.
Hermione certainly displays these tendencies in her interactions with Harry and Ron before they become friends, often butting into their conversations, and follows them around to make sure they don’t get into any trouble. Furthermore, the tendency among Asperger’s individuals to speak their mind directly, due to lack of social inhibitions, is reflected in Hermione’s often abrasive, bossy, and critical statements, which proves to be a constant source of irritation throughout their friendship.
Despite her social challenges, Hermione displays a unique intellectual aptitude, with an ability to analyze information and quickly deciphering important clues that play an essential role in the trio’s quest. She has a highly logical mindset, promptly turning to books whenever in doubt, which serves as a helpful counterbalance to Harry’s emotionally driven thinking since she is a voice of reason during his moments of anger or distress.
For example, Hermione’s logical thinking enables them to deduce that The Sword of Gryffindor is the key to destroying Horcruxes since it takes in Basilisk venom, which leads Harry to find the Sword in the Forest of Dean and thus destroy Tom Riddle’s locket, bringing the trio another step closer to defeating Voldemort. Furthermore, Hermione is highly strong-willed and refuses to let herself be bullied by Draco Malfoy, and she provides firm emotional support to Harry, consistently taking his side, even at the cost of alienating Ron, her love interest. This is one of the reasons that many of the saga’s fans (myself included) feel that Harry and Hermione would have been a better romantic couple, given that Ron and Hermione frequently fight, with Ron being spiteful and cruel on several occasions, and that Harry and Ginny do not have strong onscreen chemistry.
While Hermione’s intellectual strengths are a vital part of her contributions to the trio’s success, her abrasiveness, directness, and hot temper continue to manifest themselves during moments of tension or disagreement. For example, when Ron makes an awkward invitation for Hermione to accompany him to the Yule Ball in The Goblet of Fire, she furiously chides him for failing to take notice of her being a girl until this moment, and she abruptly informs him that she has already accepted another invitation before storming out.
Later, when Ron learns that her date is the rival Triwizard Tournament champion Viktor Krum, he and Hermione have a heated confrontation which prompts her to angrily order both Harry and Ron to bed, and Harry is quick to comply since Hermione is not one to argue with when her temper is up. Her bossy streak also manifests itself in The Half-Blood Prince when she repeatedly hits Ron on the shoulder with her book, ordering him to stop eating because of her concern that Harry is missing. While these moments provide a lot of comic relief in the films, they also raise the possibility of Hermione having Asperger’s or ADHD since people with these diagnoses often display a directness that, to many people, borders on being obnoxious.
Another possible sign of Hermione having Asperger’s or ADHD is her tendency to take on more courses than she can realistically handle. This is demonstrated in The Prisoner of Azkaban when Hermione takes a heavy courseload and uses her Time Turner to make it to all her classes on time. As the book progresses, this courseload takes a toll on her emotional and mental state, which adversely affects her interactions with her classmates:
“Hermione’s immense workload finally seemed to be getting to her. Every night, without fail, Hermione was to be seen in a corner of the common room, several tables spread with books, Arithmancy charts, rune dictionaries, diagrams of Muggles lifting heavy objects, and file upon file of extensive notes; she barely spoke to anybody and snapped when she was interrupted.”
This difficulty with organizing time effectively, together with its resulting toll on Hermione’s stress level, is commonly found among many Asperger’s and ADHD individuals since they can often only handle a certain amount of sensory input, and consequently they may become overwhelmed when experiencing sensory overload. In addition, ADHD individuals often have difficulty organizing tasks and activities as a symptom of inattention, although in Hermione’s case this is due to her perfectionism and determination to succeed in everything, particularly considering the widespread prejudice that she encounters as a Muggle-born (i.e., a child of non-magical parents). This drive for success, often to the point where it becomes overwhelming, is also found among many Asperger’s individuals since they display a tendency to work twice as hard as the average neurotypical person due to their unique work ethic and intellectual specialization in subjects of interest.
Another tendency that Hermione displays is her difficulty with waiting to be called upon or giving an answer out of turn during class. This is demonstrated in The Prisoner of Azkaban during Professor Snape’s lecture on werewolves; when she is not called upon after raising her hand, Hermione provides a lengthy answer to the lecture prompt, leading Snape to remark, “That is the second time you’ve spoken out of turn, Ms. Granger. Are you incapable of restraining yourself, or do you take pride in being an insufferable know-it-all?”
While this statement is undoubtedly cruel, the scenario provides further plausibility to the likelihood that Hermione could have Asperger’s or ADHD, especially the latter since ADHD individuals’ symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity can include the tendency to blurt out an answer before a question has been completed or to have difficulty waiting their turn. During their early years at Hogwarts, this often makes Hermione a figure of ridicule and disdain among her peers, but Harry and Ron increasingly grow to appreciate her intellectual acumen and her powerful grasp of magic, as she provides the brains and emotional backbone of their friendship throughout the saga.
In summation, I strongly believe that a plausible case can be made for Hermione having Asperger’s Syndrome or ADHD, considering the various neurodivergent traits that she brings to her characterization over the course of the Harry Potter series. While her abrasiveness, bossiness, and tendency to speak her mind directly often make Hermione a difficult person to like, her hyperfocus, intelligence and determination are highly admirable traits that constitute an important asset in the trio’s quest, rightfully earning Hermione the status of being “the brightest witch of her age” and an empowered heroine.
Since Emma Watson was diagnosed with combined/hyperactive type ADHD herself as a child, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that she may have brought some of these traits to her stellar portrayal of Hermione, which launched her acting career and endeared her to millions of fans around the world. As more films and television series bring depictions of empowered neurodiverse protagonists to the screen, and especially given the preponderance of male protagonists to female protagonists, we can look to Hermione Granger as an inspiring heroine who demonstrates the success that Asperger’s and ADHD individuals can achieve through harnessing their unique intellectual and professional skills.
I am an artist on the autism spectrum. I received an MA specializing in Civil War/Reconstruction history at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and I have been drawing hundreds of Civil War-themed pictures since the age of five and a half. I recently completed a secondary Master’s in Library and Information Sciences. As a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, I have a very focused set of interests, and the Civil War is my favorite historical event within that range of interests. It is therefore my fervent desire to become a Civil War historian and have my Civil War artwork published in an art book for children. I am also very involved in the autism community and currently serve as the President/Head Officer of Spectrum at UNCG, an organization I founded for students on the autism spectrum. The goal of the organization is to promote autism awareness and foster an inclusive community for autistic students on the UNCG campus. The group has attracted some local publicity and is steadily gaining new members, and we shall be hosting autism panels for classes on campus in the near future.