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ADHD Poster Girl #1: Maria Von Trapp, Part I

The Sound of MusicPart I

If you’re like me, you’ve watched The Sound of Music every single year since you were a little kid, and can sing along word for word with every song. And do. Loudly.

The Von Trapp Code

After I was diagnosed with ADHD, the movie took on a whole new meaning. It was like there’d been a secret code embedded in every line, every scene. Every minute was a depiction of a classic, hyperactive woman in ADHD overdrive. Now, the code was cracked.

I’m not saying Maria had ADHD. But consider the parallels.

Another spinning ADHD er

What’s she doing in the opening of the movie? Spinning. It was spinning in my living room, then my kitchen, then my bedroom, repeat…for hours on end…that finally got me into my doctor for a diagnosis. I was spinning my wheels so much I couldn’t focus long enough to work. I was sinking fast.

So there she is, up on a mountaintop, belting out a song, spinning for all she’s worth. Suddenly, she remembers she’s supposed to be singing vespers at the Abbey. She takes off at breakneck speed, stumbling down the mountainside, late for service. She drops her headscarf (typical clumsy ADHD er), picks it up, and keeps on barreling down the hill.

Lateness, distraction, and flippety-gibbets

How often have I run (late) into a board meeting because I’d been caught up in the whirlwind of another activity?  (Often).

Later, the nuns discuss how they can solve a problem like Maria. They call her “an angel”  “a flippety-gibbet,” “a will-o-the-wisp,”  “a clown.”  How many times have your friends or bosses held wildly divergent opinions of you? Sometimes these divergent opinions are held by the same person! How many times has your erratic, incomprehensible behavior lost you a job?  I can relate to Maria’s fear when The Reverend Mother sends her to work as a nanny, the fear of starting yet another new job.

ADHD impulsivity

At Captain Von Trapp’s home, Maria’s impulsive remarks and behavior both repel and attract her new employer. In classic ADHD parlance, Maria confesses, “…I can’t seem to stop saying things, everything and anything I think and feel.”  If this isn’t textbook ADHD impulsivity, I don’t know what is.

Uncontrollable exuberance

While Maria’s employer, Captain Von Trapp, is smitten with her, he’s also frustrated, irritated, and bamboozled by her reckless, out-of-control behavior. And charmed by her childlike innocence and enthusiasm. Maria is an adult who knows how to play with abandon. (For more stories of eccentric exuberance, read Zoë’s Pet Peeves: Stifle Yourself!)

Her scatterbrained, hyperactive whirlwind of activity leaves him breathless. And he’s not the only one affected by her ADHD traits. An Abbey sister laments, “When I’m with her I’m confused, out of focus and bemused.”

Ha!  She thinks she’s confused and out of focus!  She should try being Maria. Or me. Or any woman with severe, untreated ADHD.

Before diagnosis, lots of us ADHD ers get called uncomplimentary things. How many of us can relate to expressions like, “as unpredictable as weather”  or, “as flighty as a feather,” both expressions used by the sisters to describe Maria. In my case, my mother begged me to “light somewhere,” when I was a child because my constant movement drove her crazy. I also heard “you’re giving me a headache,” so I could relate to Maria when the nuns called her a headache and a pest.

Rules? What rules?

But she can’t be pinned down. Can any of us? Maybe with the right dosage of meds, OK, but untreated?  Not a chance.

And rules? Forget it. Not only does Maria not play by the rules, she doesn’t even know them.  And if you try to teach them to her she’ll either forget them a second later (memory being a problem for many of us ADHDers), or she’ll become so distracted that she’ll leap over them to pursue something more exciting.

“I just couldn’t help myself; the gates were open and the hills were beckoning…,” says Maria. She wasn’t kidding. She literally couldn’t help herself. We ADHD ers call this impulsivity, combined with being distracted by something more fun than mopping up the Abbey floors.

Just as she was incapable of getting back to the Abbey in time because she was having so much fun in the alps, so too she couldn’t help romping all over the village with the Von Trapp kids, including – wait for it – CLIMBING TREES! (Can you say DSM IV? One of the diagnostics for ADHD kids is climbing excessively in inappropriate situations…doo-doo-doo-doo!)

Creativity & charm

She even thinks outside the box with typical ADHD creativity, and makes children’s playclothes out of her old bedroom drapes, because the old tightwad Captain won’t shell out the cash for playclothes for the kids. And his children, in turn, fall in love with her.

Ultimately, so, too, does the Captain. (Maria shows classic ADHD charm, so how could he resist?)

Stay tuned!

Stay tuned for Part II of ADHD Poster Girl #1 – Maria Von Trapp, to see if Maria has her happy ending, and to re-envision a more typical ADHD – ending – divorce – for the Von Trapps. The sequel that never was, but might easily have been…

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ADHD Poster Girl #1: Maria Von Trapp, Part I

Zoë Kessler, BA, B.Ed.

Zoë Kessler is an award-winning author, journalist, and speaker specializing in women and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD / ADD).

A frequent contributor to ADDitude Magazine, Kessler has also created video, standup comedy, and guest blogs on ADHD and Marriage covering ADHD-related topics.

Zoë, an internationally recognized ADHD expert, has been interviewed on radio and featured in magazine articles, documentaries, and books on the topic of women and ADHD across North America.

Her newly-released memoir ADHD According to Zoë - The Real Deal on relationships, Finding Your Focus & Finding Your Keys (New Harbinger Publications, 2013) about life with ADHD is now available.

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APA Reference
Kessler, Z. (2011). ADHD Poster Girl #1: Maria Von Trapp, Part I. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Mar 2011
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