Nearly 20 years after she first began studying Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) with Department of Psychology Professor Andrea Chronis-Tuscano, Yamalis Diaz, Ph.D. ’09, stars in a new, award-winning documentary on the neurological condition.
As a Clinical Assistant Professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine, as well as a licensed psychologist in the NYU Child Study Center’s Institute for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity and Behavior Disorders, Diaz was one of only 12 experts asked to weigh in in The Disruptors, a film that shares the experiences of multiple families—and celebrities—whose lives have been touched by ADHD.
She is also the only expert to have appeared alongside Executive Producer Nancy Armstrong in last month’s launch interview with CBS News.
“It's a career highlight because the filmmakers did such a nice job of balancing the challenges—and there are plenty—that come with ADHD, but also the beautiful strengths that come with it and how you can really harness that,” said Diaz.
As the documentary explains, for example, while some of the core symptoms of ADHD—distractibility, impulsivity and hyperactivity—can be seen as a negative attribute, they can also be a positive attribute in that individuals with ADHD have an innate curiosity about the world, are more easily creative, and have more energy than those without.
“They are just really misunderstood,” Diaz says in the film. “If I could pick one thing that I would want parents, educators and the general public to know about children with ADHD, it’s that they are little, creative, imaginative beings who just need a little more support, a little more positive feedback ... to put them on the right track.”
Diaz truly loves "this beautiful [ADHD] brain,” even after almost two whole decades of studying it.
“I remember very clearly sitting in my parents home as a 24-year-old eager and excited to have been accepted to the graduate program, but also a little nervous that I wasn’t going to be working with the advisor I thought I was going to work with,” said Diaz, who was matched with Chronis-Tuscano after deferring a year. "I just found the first set of notes that I took during my first conversation with Andrea on August 14, 2002, and when I found them, it made me emotional because the love I now have for working with children with ADHD started on that date; I'm calling it my ADHD-aversary."
While not on her initial list, one of the experts Chronis-Tuscano had Diaz read up on, Russell Barkley, also appeared in The Disruptors, adding to the list of reasons why Diaz's cameo is such a career highlight.
"To me, it is a fan-girl moment; I cannot believe I am in the same documentary as Russell Barkley,” she said.
Looking back, Diaz thinks working with Chronis-Tuscano is what got her to where she is today, "rubbing elbows" with Russell Barkley and working at NYU Langone Health, where she has been for the last 11 years. Her first position at NYU Langone Health technically wasn't one she met all the application requirements for; they were looking for someone with three years of experience working with individuals with ADHD after having completed their postdoctoral fellowship, and Diaz was still in her fellowship at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia when she applied.
“I thought I'm going to take a shot at the fact that I've been specializing in ADHD since the beginning of my graduate training, which is unlike most people, and now have an additional two years postdoc under my belt. That was enough for them to interview me and hold the position,” said Diaz. “I think it really was because I was doing ADHD research for so long, and I think it speaks to the amount of focus and training I got first with my work in the Maryland ADHD program, and then as a postdoc in Philadelphia.”
Today, Diaz is primarily focused on getting evidence-based, ADHD research into the public’s hands by way of documentaries like The Disruptors, social media, and new educational materials for fellow clinicians. Diaz recently developed two such clinician-focused frameworks that she hopes to make accessible in the coming months.