Research – Preliminary Findings – Positive Disruptors – ADHD Women and their Wins

Dr. Kate Carr-Fanning is a Lecturer in Psychology in Education at the University of Bristol. Kate is a psychologist, she completed her PhD in psychology and education at Trinity College Dublin, where she focused on the inclusion of learners with ADHD in education. She then spent 8 years in the School of Psychology in Coventry University before moving to Bristol. Kate’s research interests are all things ADHD, she is working with the Woman’s Project on a study called ‘Positive Disruptors: Woman with ADHD and their Wins’ exploring the female experience of ADHD with a particular focus on empowerment. Kate has over 15 years of experience of working with people effected by ADHD. She sits on the Board of Directors of ADHD Ireland and on the Professional Advisory Board of ADHD Europe.

Positive Disruptors: ADHD Women and their Wins’  providing opportunities for empowerment for woman with ADHD and sharing preliminary findings from a study identifying empowerment enablers in education and employment. Particularly focusing on what educators, employers, woman themselves  others working with them can do to enable the empowerment of woman with ADHD.  ‘

Positive Disruptors: ADHD Woman and their Wins

Kate Carr-Fanning, Mary Quirke, Dinara Shaimakhanova, & Conor McGuckin

If you have any questions or would like to hear more about the study, please contact Dr Kate Carr-Fanning, University of Bristol, [email protected]

Background: Women’s empowerment may be gaining ground on a global stage (UN Sustainable Development Goal 5). However, notions of empowerment abound and are often poorly defined, misused, or even abused. Woman’s empowerment is often linked to education, however, much less is known about ‘how’ education empowers women (Mosedale, 2005) and indeed may disempower. Even with this knowledge, there is no singular woman’s experience or way to empower.

The voices of neurodivergent woman have been marginalised in empowerment discourses, in a meaningful sense, as our literature review suggests the term is often misused when applied to woman with ADHD. This study also builds on an emergent awareness that inclusive research should move away from trying to ‘fix’ deficits, and construct environments which are inclusive and empowering, and that such research should be done ‘with’ those directly affected, in this case, woman with ADHD.

This research also builds on an emergent body of evidence suggests that the experiences of woman and girls with ADHD is different to what is commonly associated with ADHD; because much of what is known is based on research with males. For example, when compared with males, females with ADHD appear to present differently, they are more likely to ‘suffer in silence’ and receive a diagnosis at a later age (Murry et al., 2019; Waite, 2007), they also present with higher rates of inattention, internalizing problems, or cooccurring difficulties (e.g., anxiety disorders eating disorders, and depression: Levy, Hay, Bennett, & McStephen, 2005; Quinn, 2008), and social impairments (Biederman et al., 2002; Gershon, 2002). They are less likely to present with externalising issues, conduct problems, or behaviour disorders (Quinn, 2005). There is recognition for the impact of culture, for example, gender specifics roles and responsibilities and their relationship to ADHD characteristics, functional difficulties, self-identity, and well-being (Singh, 2011, 2014; Waite, 2010).

Methods: This participatory research project explored the journeys of woman with ADHD through education into employment to identify ‘empowerment enablers’. 13 women (27-41 years) from across Europe (Ireland, UK, Spain, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, and Romania) participated in an individual interview exploring their educational journeys through a life narrative approach. Women then participated in a focus group (N=11) further exploring experiences of empowerment enables in education and employment. Interviews and focus groups were recorded, transcribed, and analysed using Thematic Analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). A co-construction workshop included participants and a wider group of women with ADHD (N= 20) to verify and unpack the themes.

Findings: Three main themes were identified. First, ‘ADHD in woman and girls’, which focused on strengths and difficulties, including ADHD-related characteristics and how these were often at odds with demands or norms within their environment. Second, ‘opportunities for empowerment’ focus on the importance and the characteristics of empowering relationships, finding meaning and purpose in experience (particularly of disempowerment), using their strengths, and getting the right support. Third, ‘(dis)empowerment’ focuses on experiences of disempowerment, and how these can be changed to create opportunities for empowerment. The woman wanted to discuss their experienced of disempowerment as important parts of their educational journey. The woman spoke of real struggles beginning in secondary education, chronic social difficulties, and a lack of understanding of how ADHD manifests in females. We will also explore their experiences of being ‘put in a box’ in school, which they then struggled to get out of. We will consider the lasting effects of disempowerment; and whether these educational experience effect empowerment in adulthood.

Published May 2023

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