ADHD and Women

ADHD in women and girls is still misunderstood by many medical professionals, teachers, parents and the general public. More and more women who were diagnosed as adults report having difficulty even with members of their own families accepting their diagnosis. The main reasons for this are the age of onset of symptoms is much later for girls and their symptoms are much more subtle in contrast to boys who are already presenting with disruptive and impulsive symptoms at preschool age. Apart from that, the inattentive type ADHD is thought to be more common in girls and women than it is in boys and men, and inattentive ADHD symptoms are still largely misunderstood by medical professionals.

Whilst girls may not appear to be externally impulsive or hyperactive in the classroom, they tend to internalize their behaviours and their thoughts may cause them huge distraction and internal restlessness. Girls are able to mask their symptoms better than boys not only because of the internalizing nature of their symptoms, but also because girls tend to be more mindful of how they should act, mimicking as much as possible what their peers do.

Thus, many girls reach adulthood not knowing the reason for their difficulties, why they seem to have more than their peers. Misdiagnosis was common in the past, adding trauma to their lives because the treatment they were offered did not work for them.

Undiagnosed women abound as a result; only those who finally stumbled on the cause of their difficulties have been diagnosed as adults. We know, however, that this is just the tip of the iceberg so to speak, that many more remain undiagnosed, untreated and isolated with broken or fraught relationships and all the suffering that that entails.

The role of women in society is such that women who can’t seem to do what is expected of them are isolated as young mothers, as wives, as nurturers. The difficulties that many girls and women experience due to the changes of estrogen levels in their brains can greatly affect girls and women with ADHD during puberty (severe premenstrual mood swings, depression and/or anxiety). These are the times that their ADHD symptoms become most severe.

After diagnosis, young women are often energized, recognizing their strengths and capitalizing on them. Older women, however, go through a grieving process about not being identified much sooner and about what they could have achieved had they but known what was wrong with them.