I was 29 years old when my doctor finally diagnosed me with ADHD. I had been struggling with symptoms for a long time, but it wasn't until my late twenties that I realized how much of an impact they were having on my life. I was feeling a lot of things, but I could not pinpoint "what was wrong with me".
I know I'm not alone, too many adult women remain undiagnosed. They have no idea because they lack awareness about ADHD globally and because of comorbid disorders. They think it is something else like anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, major depression, mood disorders, eating disorders, or just personality traits & quirks. In this blog post, we'll talk all about the ways adult ADHD affects women as well as preadolescent girls; specifically based on real-world stories -- from pay gaps to parenting practices and tips for thriving with ADHD as a woman.
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. If you want to know the basics of ADHD & ADD, what causes ADHD, how common it is, learn about the different types & symptoms, we encourage you to read this article that answers the most frequently asked questions about ADHD.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a disorder that affects both genders, but there are some key differences between how it affects men vs women.
For example, women are often diagnosed with ADHD later in life than men.
Specialists estimate that most adults with ADHD are women. They attribute this to a variety of factors like the fact that some ADHD symptoms - such as struggling in school or perfectionism - tend to manifest differently in girls and boys.
For example, many women with ADHD have a tendency to keep quiet, which is unusual for the pediatricians and child psychiatrists that usually deal with hyperactive kids.
The stereotypical person with ADHD is a hyperactive boy but it should also be a quiet girl with ADHD.
Before diving into the specifics it is crucial to understand that even though there is only one medical term (ADHD) with 3 subtypes (inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive, and combined), ADHD takes many different forms in the way it expresses itself and how it is perceived. So I'm not making any generalizations, I'm merely sharing the prevailing sentiments of my community.
Keep in mind that everyone is different, so don't think you have or don't have ADHD only based on the testimonials of others, you have to go through your accurate ADHD diagnosis and proper ADHD medications. Of course, the first step is always to talk to mental health professionals you can trust like a psychiatrist or a doctor that knows you well so they can provide medical advice. If you can't do that, learn as much as you can online, and do some online ADHD evaluation tests and that can be a good place to start.
One way Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may affect women differently is with low self-esteem and motivation😭. Women with adult ADHD tend to frequently report feeling inferior or less accomplished than their peers, even when they have a similar education level 😓. They have a negative self-image of themselves and they experience coexisting anxiety.
Another way it affects women differently is in the realm of emotions. Many women with ADHD have a hard time explaining how they feel or why something bothers them because their feelings are often more intense than what other people around them may be feeling. This can lead to toxic relationships and chronic stress because of misunderstandings and communication issues😌.
Difficulties regulating emotions, in general, can lead to self-medicating or acting impulsively. For example, women who are used to having trouble focusing and prioritizing tasks are more likely to turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism and become dependent on it😫.
Yes, it is! We are just not trained as a society to notice it and act on it quickly so that it can be properly managed.
The sooner you know what you are dealing with, the more likely you are to develop healthy coping mechanisms that will enable you to thrive and treat ADHD.
It will also help you avoid unpleasant circumstances and numerous struggles that adult women with ADHD confront daily.
I can tell you all the bad memories I have from childhood that stemmed from my undiagnosed, untreated ADHD.
I will always remember my distress when I would try my best to focus on what the teacher would be saying but then be completely unable to repeat what she just said when she would interrogate me.
I was not doing anything else but looking at her and listening to her, but somehow nothing would record in my brain and I would be completely unable to repeat what she said when most other students would have no problem doing it. It simply was an expression of my ADHD struggle. 😫
Because women and girls with undiagnosed ADHD hear themselves labeled as "spacey," "excessively talkative," or "disorganized" making them suffer from low self-esteem. It's only after their accurate diagnosis that it starts to all make sense.
Boys tend to continue to be diagnosed more often with ADHD than girls at a similar rate as in years past, I am confident that most undiagnosed adults with ADHD will be women.
Yes, ADHD symptoms in women tend to be slightly different. Some of these differences that can be signs of ADHD in girls and adult women include the following symptoms:
-Having more difficulty following directions at school 📚👩🏫👨🎓 or work when they were young compared to boys with ADHD, who often followed directions but had trouble staying on task.
-Having more difficulty with time management in their daily life 🕰.
-Girls are also less likely to be diagnosed because their symptoms are not as noticeable and tend to develop later than boys 👦, which means they often miss out on support and treatment.
-Women tend to have different feelings towards their symptoms and ADHD in general. Studies often report feelings of shame 🙁, lower self-esteem, unpleasant mood, sadness 💔 and frustration 🤬. This often leads to women feeling misunderstood & isolated 😥😭👩🚀
-Adult women that have ADHD are more likely to suffer from recurring stress when their lack of attention, procrastination tendencies, and time management issues are impeding their personal and professional lives.
It can lead to a vicious circle causing chronic stress that often causes other mental disorders. Some mental health professionals believe this could be amplified due to how women measure themselves against cultural expectations.
This is why women with ADHD may experience more depressive symptoms and psychological distress than men, and in general, are more likely to have mood disorders.
That's one of the reasons why I started creating content about ADHD, I believe that a big factor in a lot of those signs of ADHD in women stems from the fact that it is undiagnosed for so long.
Would women have as much anxiety and chronic stress if they were diagnosed with ADHD and properly treated starting in childhood?
When I see how my ADHD diagnosis impacted my life for the better and helped me deal with so many of my issues, I am confident that this is the most important.
So if you have any inklings about having ADHD, do your research, check your family history and talk to multiple specialists if you need to. Do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of your issues and get the proper diagnosis.
That's the only way you'll understand yourself and begin to thrive with ADHD.
I created the "Could it be ADHD" Workbook for that specific purpose, it can guide you through the first steps of understanding ADHD symptoms so you can be well equipped to talk to doctors.
Don't trust my word for it, this is what Julia Strait, a Licensed Psychologist wrote on my Amazon product page:
"This resource is amazing for women who are considering or preparing for an ADHD diagnostic assessment.
Alice walks us through both core and associated symptoms of ADHD in women in a uniquely compassionate, authentic voice, and her examples and advice are spot-on. I especially love how her approach is BS-free and based on scientific and clinical evidence.
Just get it, ok? And if it makes sense, follow that up with a call to your local psychologist or psychiatrist and we’ll figure this out together."
Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only. If you are experiencing symptoms of ADHD, it’s best to see a professional for a diagnosis.