Picture this: A child is jumping around the room, arms flailing, interrupting the teacher.
Is the child male or female?
Chances are, you imagined a boy.
Why? For years, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been diagnosed as a predominantly male syndrome. While it’s true that the majority of those suffering from ADHD are male, a surprisingly large number of girls and women also deal with ADHD. According to one study at Harvard University, about 40 percent of those with ADHD are women – except that many women with ADHD are either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
Symptoms: Boys and Girls
Many theorize that girls are less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD because their symptoms differ greatly from those of boys. Whereas many boys with ADHD cause disruptions in the classroom and exhibit hyperactivity, girls with ADHD simply stare straight ahead at the teacher but have no idea what she is trying to say. These girls underfunction throughout elementary school, even though they are bright. Many do not receive a diagnosis and simply believe that they are “not good at school.” They are also often labeled as “chatty,” constantly telling animated stories to their friends or as “daydreamers” because they do not pay attention to what’s going on in the classroom.
“Girls with ADHD remain an enigma – often overlooked, misunderstood and hotly debated,” says Ellen Littman, PhD, a psychologist who focuses on gender differences in ADHD and advocates for a reexamination of the disorder.
So, what happens when these girls finish school without a diagnosis? What does it mean to be a woman living with ADHD?
ADHD and the Home
In our community, whether or not they have a career, women do not simply act as mothers. They are also responsible for planning many aspects of home life. On a typical day, a woman needs to keep track of her children’s afterschool activities and playdates, the grocery list, the dinner menu, and the laundry, to name just a few of a mother’s responsibilities. Keeping tabs on all of these moving pieces can be overwhelming for anybody, let alone for a woman suffering from undiagnosed ADHD. For many women with ADHD, managing all these tasks seems impossible, and they consistently fail to maintain order in their lives. Consequently, their self-esteem suffers because they feel that their failure in managing the household is a reflection on their capabilities.
The Mommy Link
Many women do not realize they have ADHD until they bring their child in for an evaluation. Occasionally, after I have finished testing a child, the mother will ask to speak to me privately and explain that through her child’s testing, she realized that she shares many of her child’s symptoms. It is only then that she realizes that perhaps her inability to keep track of her complex life has nothing to do with her intentions and everything to do with ADHD. We then sit together to work out a plan to aid her in combating the disorder.
Women with undiagnosed ADHD are prone to suffer from a number of other disorders, including:
Anxiety and depression:Many women with ADHD do not understand why they cannot just live the way the rest of the world seems to function. This deflated sense of self is often linked to anxiety or depression.
Obesity and eating disorders:Research has correlated ADHD in women with a higher risk of being overweight or having an eating disorder. Since organization is used to plan a healthy diet and make time to exercise, women with undiagnosed ADHD tend to grab quick meals or look to food to provide comfort.
Prevention and Treatment
Early intervention is the best way to avoid these coinciding problems for girls and women with ADHD, and thus getting a diagnosis is vitally important. However, if as you are reading this article, many of these issues feel a little too close to home, just know that it is not too late to organize all those overwhelming tasks. Diagnosis is the first step.
Who knows – perhaps in a few months you will have figured out how to do a load of laundry, cook dinner, review homework, return phone calls, and plan a birthday party in a perfectly organized fashion. Then again, maybe that’s asking too much of the modern mother. But that’s a thought for another article…