Understanding ADHD in Women
By Keath Low, MA
Ask a random person on the street to explain ADHD and they will more often than not describe the stereotypical hyperactive boy running around the classroom. ADHD, however, is much more complex than that. Many girls and women with ADHD often fall through the cracks. Symptoms of ADHD go unrecognized or if problems are recognized, they are attributed to other factors or conditions.
It may also be that through childhood and the teenage years, the female is able to compensate for her attentional weaknesses and other impairments, but the effort she must put into completing her work and managing daily activities in her life is enormous. Her behaviors may also be less disruptive, less noticeable to those on the outside, and so she goes on dealing with the extraordinary pressure until her 20s or 30s or 40s or 50s or 60s and on, feeling as though she may burst from the lack of control and chaos she feels.
A Complicated Picture
Finally, when she meets with her doctor to sort out what has been causing the overwhelm and feelings of depression that have been overtaking her life, to understand why she always feels one….or rather five steps behind, ADHD may not even be considered. Part of this misunderstanding may be related to her history which doesn’t “look” like what one typically considers ADHD. Additionally, the normal hormonal changes and fluctuations a female experiences throughout her lifespan – puberty, the monthly premenstrual time, pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause – can all affect the presentation of ADHD symptoms.
To complicate the picture further, features that are often associated with ADHD in women, such as depression and anxiety are often misdiagnosed as primary symptoms. It is these secondary conditions that are more likely to be diagnosed and treated in women, so that the ADHD is overlooked completely. And the woman may even feel an initial sense of hope that things will get better with that treatment, yet hope is soon lost when the issues of inattention, planning, organizing, and managing time and emotions continue to harm relationships and day-to-day responsibilities because the root of the problem – ADHD – has been missed.
So she continues on with her life feeling frustrated and depleted, wondering why things that seem so simple for others are so difficult for her, often internalizing negative thoughts about herself, feeling shame, inadequacy, unworthiness, hopelessness.
Know That There is Hope…
ADHD is a common, highly treatable condition. Life can get better with proper treatment and proper treatment begins with an accurate diagnosis. Increasing our understanding about the different ways ADHD can present in women can help. To learn more go to Common ADHD Symptoms in Women.
NOTE: How do you find a doctor who is experienced in assessing and treating ADHD?
That is the question we get asked the most!So, Rick Green has written a blog all about it called How Do I Find Out If I Have ADHD?
and, our Comprehensive Guide to ADHD videos will help you navigate the process.