Women and ADHD: It Often Looks Different Than Men’s

Women and ADHD: the condition often looks different for girls and women than it does for boys and men. Physician Tim Bilkey explains what to look for:

How it impacts on women if they are untreated is that they are more prone to poor driving records; the development of substance abuse; impulsivity; and eating disorders. Females with ADHD are also likely to have co-occurring medical conditions, including anxiety and depression. Many women have an unrequited sense of underachievement in their lives, as if something has held them back.

Therapist Sari Solden pointed out years ago that girls with ADHD are often overlooked. She’s the author of the groundbreaking and bestselling 1995 book Women with Attention Deficit Disorder: Embracing Disorganization at Home and in the Workplacerevised and expanded in 2005.

Dr. Ellen Littman, co-author of Understanding Girls with ADHD, indicates that girls’ symptoms often increase after puberty, which is the opposite for many boys. And Solden notes that girls who are smart and receive good support and structure are less likely to draw notice.

A self-test Solden devised regarding women and ADHD is presented below. The more yeses a woman responds, the higher the indication that a professional assessment may be in order.

  • Do you feel overwhelmed in stores, at the office, or at parties? Is it impossible for you to shut out sounds and distractions that don’t bother others?
  • Is time, money, paper, or “stuff” dominating your life and hampering your ability to achieve your goals?
  • Are you spending most of your time coping, looking for things, catching up, or covering up? Do you avoid people because of this?
  • Have you stopped having people over to your house because of your shame at the mess?
  • Do you have trouble balancing your checkbook?
  • Do you often feel as if life is out of control, that it’s impossible to meet demands?
  • Do you feel that you have better ideas than other people but are unable to organize them or act on them?
  • Do you start each day determined to get organized?
  • Have you watched others of equal intelligence and education pass you by?
  • Do you despair of ever fulfilling your potential and meeting your goals?
  • Have you ever been thought of as selfish because you don’t write thank-you notes or send birthday cards?
  • Are you clueless as to how others manage to lead consistent, regular lives?
  • Are you called “a slob” or “spacey?” Are you “passing for normal?” Do you feel as if you are an impostor?

Zoe Kessler, who didn’t find out she had ADHD until she was in her 40’s, wrote ADHD According to Zoë: The Real Deal on Relationships, Finding Your Focus, and Finding Your Keys, another resource pertinent to women and ADHD.

How’d she discover she had the condition? First, a male friend with ADHD prodded the skeptical Kessler into investigating the likelihood. Then she went to the online Jasper/Goldberg Adult ADD Questionnaire. Here’s what happened next (HuffPost):

By question four, I panicked. I had no idea why these questions were even on the test. Wasn’t everybody like this?

Apparently not.

Unfortunately, additional issues pile up along the way when the diagnosis of ADHD is missed in childhood. Says Kessler: “Being different leaves us feeling like ugly ducklings: not understanding why we don’t fit in, we’re ashamed and confused. Because our ADHD goes untreated for longer, this can lead to a steady erosion of self-esteem and self-confidence.”

Getting diagnosed, though, led to a “positive shift in self-perception” for her. She adds, “Knowledge about ADHD will set you free from a path of unmet goals and unanswered questions.”

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