The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reports that cases of diagnosed ADHD in girls increased by 55% from 2003 and 2011, compared to 40% in boys. It’s a positive sign when it comes to raising awareness, even if it’s a gap we as women wish we weren’t closing. Here are five things women who now have ADHD wish they knew when they were struggling as girls.
There are generations of women living with undiagnosed ADHD. Just because you aren’t hearing about them, doesn’t mean they do not exist. In fact, there is a movement right now, an entire “lost generation of women” who struggled their entire lives with the disorder, only to find out as adults that there is a medical reason for the way they are.
As clinical psychologist Michelle Frank puts it, “these women have had to manage the condition on their own and deal with it on their own for the majority of their lives. The diagnosis is a blessing and a curse: it’s a great relief, but they wonder what could have been different if they had only known.”
ADHD Symptoms In Women
You screw up things that just don’t seem to make sense. You’re actually a smart person, but there are just times you want to scream at the sky how you could do some of the things you do. Maybe you misplaced something really important or you forgot an important event. Maybe it happens so often now that it’s become a joke between you and your boyfriend.
While ADHD manifests itself in many forms, a common sign is the inability to focus and pay attention. Forgetfulness, having trouble finishing homework, not following instructions correctly – these are all ADHD symptoms in children. They also coincidentally are things that can make a girl feel pretty inadequate if she hasn’t gotten to the root of her actions. Incidentally, math and computers are subjects that demand focus and memory. As a girl already being stereotyped as not being able to excel in these subjects, a girl with ADHD has an even harder time keeping up with the pack.
Untreated ADHD in Women
Undiagnosed ADHD just gets worse when you’re an adult. If forgetting to water your science fair plants is a pain in the ass, it just gets harder and harder when you’re trying to live life as an independent adult, not to mention caring for others. ADHD not only makes high school and college more challenging than it already is, it can hold you back in your career, your marriage and parenthood.
Undiagnosed ADHD wreaks havoc on your career, relationships and health. Low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, obesity, and depression are all more common in women with ADHD. As a society, women are expected to hold it together the home, but when lack of focus and disorganization rear their heads, it can threaten the very core of what a woman thinks she is supposed to be. And even if you don’t buy into this idea of a woman’s role, awareness of it is crucial when you disappoint those who do.
ADHD in Boys vs Girls
Not only has ADHD historically been easier to detect in boys, it’s in the parents’ and teachers’ best interest to get them help immediately. For boys, these symptoms can be acting up in class, having trouble sitting still and having a hard time waiting their turn. Compare that to girls with ADHD, who tend to daydream, chat a little too much or be a tomboy, and not only is it easy to overlook, the same sense of urgency may not be there. Add to that the societal assumptions about ADHD and unless you’re looking for it, you’ll miss it.
It gets worse. When girls with undiagnosed ADHD move on to college, they still have a hard time managing their lives. Except now, the stakes are higher. They may be easier to influence come sorority pledge time or they may be more susceptible to recreational drug use. Add to that the pressures and risks of being sexually active, then the danger becomes even more apparent for women in particular.
ADHD Treatment Plans for Women
For those who do get help, there are rewards to be reaped. Once ADHD is suspected, the girl or woman should seek out a professional for an evaluation. Just because she has ADHD doesn’t mean she has to go on medication. While there are definitely lots of options out there in terms of medication, there also are a lot of behavioral changes to make to become a better lifehacker at her own life.
If she decides she’d like to try medication, she isn’t limited to Ritalin or Adderall, which is all we tend to hear about in the headlines. The truth is, there are a wide variety of medications of different strengths and side effects to consider. For example, a woman may consider a small dose of Focalin, a milder medication commonly prescribed to children. Just as ADHD symptoms take on various forms, so do their solutions. The point is, there is hope and it begins with awareness.
Why ADHD In Girls Is Hard To See
As any woman with ADHD can attest to, she may have been overlooked as a child because she wasn’t acting up. She was the shy, quiet type and, although smart, she’d still manage to make unnecessary mistakes. Left undiagnosed, her “careless” mistakes followed her into adulthood and challenged her in very different scenarios.
Typically, a very challenging experience forces the issue to come to a head, she receives her diagnosis and treatment, and she wonders how life could have been different if she had only known.
Clinical psychologist Michelle Frank speaks of a “lost generation of women“ who for decades have been overlooked in this diagnosis.
“The diagnosis is a blessing and a curse: it’s a great relief, but they wonder what could have been different if they had only known,” Frank told Quartz in January.
Signs of ADHD in Girls
So how do we save today’s girls from suffering the same fate? According to Psych Central, parents and teachers can look out for excessive daydreaming and poor grades when your daughter is capable of more. She may forget or fail to finish assignments, especially those with multiple parts. There’s also the “Chatty Cathy” syndrome, where she may talk too much or be excessively bossy.
In addition, girls with ADHD tend to be loners and may tend to space out. They may have a messy bedroom or have more emotional outbursts than other children their age. They also tend to grapple with anxiety issues.
Resist The Stigma
Finally, it’s important to resist the temptation of thinking because ADHD may be overdiagnosed in children, you should discredit the possibility that your child may have the disorder. Instead, if you think your daughter is exhibiting symptoms, take your daughter to a professional and get a thorough examination – including testing – before throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
“Girls with ADHD are significantly more likely to experience major depression, anxiety, and eating disorders than girls without,” Jenny Anderson writes in the aforementioned Quartz piece.
Adds clinical psychologist and author Dr. Ellen Littman:
“As a result of their low self-esteem, they often choose unhealthy relationships in which they may accept punitive criticism and or abuse.”
ADHD is a very real thing for the people who actually have it and can cause them undue strife in school, relationships, career, and health. It’s worth it to give pause if you think your daughter may be a sufferer.