A female with ADHD may be less hyperactive and less impulsive than her male counterpart. Instead she may present with more subtle symptoms such as being disorganized, scattered, forgetful, introverted, withdrawn and socially isolated. She may have great difficulty keeping her focus on tasks, becoming side-tracked and easily distracted by things around her or even by her own thoughts. It may take her a little longer to process information, so that she appears “slow” or “spacey” or “flighty”, when in fact she may be highly intelligent.
She may have a low tolerance for stress, feel extremely sensitive to criticism, and work hard to conform to adult expectations in hopes of gaining approval from others. She may have a hard time saying “no” to others, over committing to responsibilities that she cannot fulfill. It may be difficult for her to make firm decisions on even simple tasks, so that she seems wishy-washy and indecisive. Problem solving situations can become overwhelming and she may often find herself stuck, experiencing a sense of paralysis, unable to move forward at all.
Managing her time can be quite a challenge, as well, and “running late” may be her norm. She may also be hypersensitive to her environment – the noise, the sights, even touch – and quickly become overloaded, “shutting down” and unable to function. She may feel and incredible sense of shame, berating herself for not “living up to her potential”.
If she does have more of the hyperactive/impulsive symptoms of ADHD, she may be hypertalkative and hypersocial, extroverted — a social butterfly. She may often find herself “with her foot in her mouth”, blurting out and saying things without thinking and regretting it later. She may have intense emotional reactions, seem moody, impatient, and stubborn or argumentative. She may have poor self-restraint, making decisions impulsively, in addition to having have a hard time getting herself motivated, being more productive, planning, prioritizing, and organizing her life.
It is important to know that symptoms of ADHD can present very, very differently from person to person, even from woman to woman and across a woman’s lifespan. Understanding this can help. If you are concerned that you may have ADHD, talk with your doctor – even better if you can find a doctor who is experienced in assessing and treating ADHD in women and is knowledgeable about the way hormonal fluctuations and estrogen can affect symptoms.
By Keath Low, MA