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Underdiagnosed: Women & ADHD

"It's like being a cat with 100 people playing with laser pointers." --Jamie Hynds

Although Adult ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that often persists from childhood into adulthood, some people may not be diagnosed until adulthood, and women, in particular, can often be overlooked or misdiagnosed. It used to be seen as something that mostly affects boys. And, because of this, many girls and women, with ADHD have gone undiagnosed for decades.

Simply put, ADHD manifests differently in women compared to men. This is often due to hormonal variations, social conditioning, and differences in brain structure. Moreover, women's symptoms might sometimes be more internalized, such as inattentiveness, while hyperactivity in girls and women may manifest more as excessive talking or being overly emotional.

But in recent years, those women who've been lucky enough to be diagnosed have started sharing their experiences on social media. Some of these experiences cover general ADHD symptoms that seem like they could apply to anyone. After all, who doesn't have a hard time completing their to-do list or motivating themselves to do things that kinda suck? But more niche ADHD experiences – like making doom piles, difficulty hearing, or frequent hobby-jumping – might make you start to suspect you also have ADHD.

Between 2016 and 2019, only 6% of girls had ever received an ADHD diagnosis, compared to 13% of boys. However, the percentage of girls diagnosed with ADHD is certainly much lower than that of girls who have ADHD. The gender gap in diagnoses might be the result of several factors known as referral biases.

Popular Podcasts

ADHD As Females - Dawn-Marie Farmer & Laura Mears-Reynolds

Women and ADHD - Interviews with Katy Weber

Misconceptions and & Gender Biases

  1. Girls with ADHD are more likely to present with symptoms of inattention rather than hyperactive/impulsive symptoms, which are more noticeable and disruptive in classrooms, leading to more referrals by teachers.

  2. Girls have greater levels of "internalizing symptoms," including anxiety and depression, often resulting in misdiagnosis.

  3. Parents perceive so-called 'feminine' ADHD symptoms as less problematic.

  4. Parents and teachers may mistakenly believe ADHD is primarily a "male" disorder.

  5. The diagnostic guidelines for ADHD, which have changed very little, are based on symptoms observed in boys.

Seem Familiar? How Do You Relate?

Given these unique considerations for women with ADHD, strategies for coping and thriving can be tailored to address these specific challenges. Use this checklist to see if you identify with ADHD. Remember, this only a brief checklist and not for diagnosis purposes. However, should you score accordingly, considering reaching out to a qualified therapist, psychiatrist or your heath provider. Getting a correct diagnosis and treatment for ADHD can be transformative!

Additional Points for Women to Consider

1. Presentation May Differ: ADHD can look different in women than in men. While boys might present the more stereotypical hyperactive and disruptive behavior, girls and women might display more of the inattentive symptoms and might be described as daydreamers or "spacey". Their symptoms might be less overt, such as forgetfulness, disorganization, or being easily overwhelmed.

2. Comorbidities: Adult women with ADHD often have coexisting conditions like anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders. This can complicate the diagnosis as the symptoms of these conditions can overlap with ADHD.

3. Life Challenges: Due to the challenges of ADHD, adult women might experience difficulties in various life domains, such as relationships, parenting, work, and managing daily responsibilities.

4.Hormonal Fluctuations: Estrogen affects dopamine (a neurotransmitter implicated in ADHD). Therefore, hormonal changes across the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause can affect ADHD symptoms in women.

5. Late Diagnosis: Women may go undiagnosed until later in life, often when their children are diagnosed or when they reach a point in life when their coping strategies are overwhelmed by responsibilities.

6. Impact of Social Expectations: Traditional gender roles and societal expectations may make it especially challenging for women with ADHD. Women are often expected to be the organizers of family life, and if they struggle with organization due to their ADHD, they might face criticism or self-blame.

7. Treatment: Treatment for adult women with ADHD often includes a combination of medication, cognitive-behavioral therapy, coaching, and lifestyle changes. The same stimulant and non-stimulant medications used for men are also used for women, but dosages might need adjustment due to hormonal fluctuations.

8. Benefits: While ADHD brings its set of challenges, many women with ADHD report benefits such as creativity, enthusiasm, energy, and the ability to think outside the box.

9. Seeking Help: If a woman suspects she has ADHD, she should seek assessment from a psychologist, psychiatrist, or another mental health professional experienced in adult ADHD. A thorough assessment will consider life history, symptom presentation, and the impact of symptoms on daily functioning.

10. Support: Support groups, therapy, coaching, and self-education can be instrumental. Connecting with others who have ADHD can provide valuable insights, strategies, and understanding.

Remember, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition with a strong genetic component. It is not a result of laziness, lack of willpower, or upbringing. Recognizing and addressing ADHD in adult women can lead to a better understanding of oneself and can pave the way for strategies and interventions that can lead to a more fulfilling and functional life.

Informative and Helpful Resources:

Self-Test: ADHD Symptoms in Women - An additional self assessment tool that's free. - Offers women tips and wisdom about living productively with ADHD

CHADD – Women and Girls - Provides information on the issues most commonly faced by females with ADHD, and helpful treatment options and medication management. - An incredibly comprehensive website for parents, adults, and professionals dealing with ADHD.

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