What Is The History Of The ADHD Symbol?

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated April 1, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Symbols are visual representations of concepts or ideas that can offer a sense of solidarity, comfort, and pride for those who identify with them, and learning about the history of certain symbols can provide insight into movements. One symbol that has come to represent attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a form of neurodivergence, is a rainbow-colored butterfly. If you’re interested in learning about ADHD, broader symbols of neurodivergence, and how the symbol for ADHD in particular was created and came to represent this condition, see below. 

A woman in a black turtleneck stands at her computer desk at home and looks at the screen with a serious expression.
Are ADHD symptoms interfering with your life?

What is ADHD? 

ADHD is classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder as well as a form of neurodiversity. Symptoms can vary depending on the presentation: primarily inattentive, primarily interactive, or a combined type. They can include things like trouble concentrating, low self-esteem, difficulty staying organized, and impulsivity, all of which have the potential to impact work, school, relationships, and daily functioning. It’s estimated that around 6% of adults worldwide live with ADHD. Treatment usually consists of some form of therapy, sometimes in combination with medication.

ADHD is considered to be a form of neurodivergence, a concept that recognizes that there are many ways to experience and interact with the world and "no right way of thinking, learning, and behaving." The neurodiversity movement emerged in the 1990s in an effort to promote acceptance and inclusion while embracing neurological differences among people. There are symbols for both neurodivergence in general as well as ADHD in particular, both of which we’ll explore below.

The meaning behind symbols

First, let’s consider the power of symbols to convey abstract concepts. In order for something to be a symbol, it has to be recognizable as representing a specific concept to its intended audience. A "true symbol" does not require explanation by those who recognize it, though it may still elicit interpretation. 

a middle aged man in a blue shirt stands in his kitchen and taps on the tablet in his hand with a serious expression.

For example, someone may interpret the rainbow colors of the ADHD butterfly as symbolizing the spectrum of this type of neurodivergence and the many different ways it can be experienced. Or, since emotions tend to be heightened by the challenges and joys experienced by many people with ADHD, seeing the symbol's colors as signifying emotions may resonate with some. Understanding this basic information about how broad a symbol can be may provide insight into the power of the ADHD symbol, which we’ll explore below.

The history and meaning of the ADHD symbol 

The rainbow butterfly symbol that has come to represent attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder grew out of an ADHD Facebook group. The members were inspired by the rainbow infinity symbol of neurodiversity but felt that, because it’s come to be more commonly associated with autism, having a separate symbol for ADHD would be helpful. October is ADHD Awareness month, a time when you might see the ADHD symbol more often.

The butterfly can mean more than one thing in the context of ADHD. For one, it may symbolize the potential for transformation, hope, freedom, and diversity of forms. The inherent qualities of a butterfly may also reflect some of the features of ADHD, such as creativity and spontaneity. The various colors of the symbol may also represent the difference between one person's experience with ADHD and another's. Furthermore, some activists describe the butterfly's "constant movement" as representing “both physical (external) hyperactivity and internal hyperactivity (i.e., racing thoughts) and the challenge in keeping our brains and bodies calm." 

A broader symbol of neurodivergence

Some people with autism also have a diagnosis of ADHD, so these individuals may prefer the broader neurodivergent symbol: a horizontal figure eight representing infinity, also shaded in the colors of the rainbow. The infinity symbol itself was first introduced around 1657 by John Wallis, a mathematician and cryptographer, and the rainbow infinity symbol is now linked with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other forms of neurodivergence—including ADHD. Each person may identify with whatever symbol speaks to them or no symbol at all. 

A woman in an orange sweater sits on the a couch in an office and talks to her female therapist during a therapy session.
Are ADHD symptoms interfering with your life?

Getting support for symptoms of ADHD

Learning to navigate the symptoms of ADHD can be challenging, but research indicates that certain forms of therapy—such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—can help. However, traditional in-person therapy isn’t right for everyone, including those who may have trouble with scheduling or organization due to ADHD symptoms. In cases like these, online therapy can be a more convenient option. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can get support from a licensed therapist via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from the comfort of home or anywhere you have an internet connection. 

According to a meta-analysis and systematic review of research on the topic, online interventions may be effective for addressing ADHD symptoms such as attention deficit and some aspects of social functioning. The findings looked at six randomized controlled trials which included 261 people with ADHD.


The rainbow butterfly symbol now linked with the ADHD movement arose from an ADHD Facebook group. This symbol incorporates elements of the symbol for the broader neurodivergent movement, acknowledging similarities while emphasizing certain features unique to ADHD. If you’re experiencing symptoms of ADHD that are interfering with your daily life and functioning, it may be helpful to meet with a trained therapist for support.

Gain a better understanding of ADHD
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started