When you hear the term ADHD, what comes to mind? For many, the face of ADHD looks something like a young boy who has endless amounts of energy, is easily distracted, and perhaps even causes disruptions in the classroom. While this is the case for some people, it is not representative of everyone with the disorder. Early clinical studies on ADHD were conducted in the 1970s with focus groups of young, hyperactive, white boys, resulting in diagnostic criteria being biased towards individuals who fit this specific picture. The behaviors observed included impulsivity, misbehavior, hyperactivity, difficulty focusing, and easy distraction.
ADHD is broken down into three subtypes- hyperactive-impulsive type, inattentive type, and combination type. Young boys are diagnosed with ADHD at a higher rate than girls as they often exhibit the more obvious outward symptoms that coincide with the hyperactive-impulsive type, allowing teachers or parents to observe these behaviors leading to a referral for diagnosis at a younger age. As additional research has been conducted over the years, it has been found that young females are less frequently diagnosed not because they are less likely to have ADHD, but because they often show symptoms that align with the inattentive or combined types. These symptoms, such as withdrawing from social activities, low self-esteem, anxiety, daydreaming, or being talkative, can easily be brushed off as a “normal” part of growing up, or just part of one’s personality. As a result, females often go undiagnosed into adulthood.
So, what does ADHD look like in an adult woman living undiagnosed or untreated?
Some common symptoms can be:
● Difficulty starting or completing tasks
● Being very talkative
● Frequently interrupting others in conversation
● Extreme sensitivity to rejection or perceived rejection (Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria)
● Hyperfixation on an activity or hobby that only lasts a short amount of time
● Sensory issues
● Difficulty focusing when someone is speaking to you
● Difficulty regulating emotions
● Being forgetful or frequently losing things
● Chronic stress or feeling like you can never “catch up on life”
● Difficulties in relationships
● Being a “messy person”; having a hard time keeping spaces free of clutter
An additional contributing factor to underdiagnosis in females is the high rate of comorbid disorders that often accompany ADHD. Common comorbidities include Bipolar Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety, and Substance Use Disorder. ADHD can be masked by these disorders, making it more difficult to reach a proper diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is made,
medication, therapy, and learning about different ways to cope with symptoms prove to have a high success rate in relieving symptoms and allowing the individual to live a happier life.
By: Melissa Fingado
Mental Health Counseling Intern
Image Credit: ADDitudes