Why are female ADHD symptoms so frequently missed and undiagnosed?
It might suddenly seem as though every other woman in your world is being diagnosed with ADHD at the moment.
ADHD is having a tough time in the press at the moment and there’s a lot of negative chatter about it being a “fad”, “trendy” and that people are using it as a label to “get away with things”
Before I go any further, I want to say, as clearly as I possibly can:
ADHD is real, challenging, often debilitating and untreated leads to varied and negative life affecting symptoms including addiction and a much higher rate of death by suicide.
People who don’t have ADHD don’t spend hours (days, weeks, months?) researching it and questioning if that’s what’s going on for them.
And if you’re a woman who thinks she may have ADHD, you are absolutely doing the right thing in exploring assessment for yourself and learning as much as you can about ADHD.
(If you’re not sure where to start with this why not grab my free download which includes symptoms of hyperactive and inattentive ADHD in women, an ADHD women checklist and some pointers on how to get diagnosed with adhd as a woman in the UK)
Now I’ve got that out of the way… what IS it that’s causing so many adults, especially women to seek a diagnosis? (I’ll use the words assessment and diagnosis interchangeably throughout; in my experience MOST of the women who make it as far as assessment have a confirmed diagnosis. This is because the process itself is lengthy, challenging, sometimes distressing, and as above - non Neurodivergent people do not spend the hours ruminating over whether they are ND…)
Some key things to be aware of here:
ADHD in adults wasn’t recognised until around 30 years ago - prior to that it was seen as something children had and grew out of
ADHD in girls and women can present VERY differently from ADHD in boys and men
The greater range of hormone fluctuations throughout a woman’s life can mean things can seem pretty stable (usually due to incredibly complex coping mechanisms and systems put in place) until peri-menopause, when a lot of women begin to sense something else is going on
It’s still a very misunderstood and under researched field of medical science, but more is now being done to support ADHDers across the whole spectrum of presentations and this is a GREAT thing!
While that’s happening, I’ll do my best to present relevant, easy to digest information which will help you understand yourself better! There is no argument that there’s an outdated idea of only little boys having ADHD and that they will grow out of it… but in childhood, for every 3 boys diagnosed, only 1 girl is diagnosed, even though clinicians agree that there is no difference in the occurrence of ADHD across boys and girls…
But in women and girls, it’s very common for the more inattentive symptoms of ADHD to be at the forefront, so girls in school may seem as though they are daydreaming rather than fidgeting, because their hyperactivity is internal.
Their brain is super busy but this might not be being demonstrated externally because they don’t have a need to constantly move OR because they are making sure they aren’t fidgeting and disrupting - one of the first things a girl may have learned to do to “mask” their differences.
This would often have led to girls being viewed as “spacey” or in their own little world, which in a girl can end up being seen as “charming” because they are being quiet, non-disruptive and a “good” girl (even though they aren’t paying attention - go figure…)
This combined with the fact that 30 years ago, people weren’t looking out for ADHD in girls, and especially not in girls who did well academically - which is also very common in ADHD - it’s really not about people being lazy or stupid!
Girls and women are typically much better at “masking” by which I mean displaying behaviours they believe to be socially acceptable, and when girls learn this at a young age, they learn to mimic their peers to “fit in” it can mean that symptoms go completely unnoticed or are just dismissed as a little “quirk” of their personality.
It’s also really common for untreated ADHD to present as different conditions such as anxiety, depression, disordered eating, even bipolar disorder etc. and it’s far more common in women for these mental health conditions to be diagnosed as the cause rather than as a symptom of ADHD.
Now, thankfully, there’s so much more awareness of the huge array of symptoms and struggles in boys and girls that ADHD is being noticed much earlier - and as it’s been shown there are strong hereditary patterns, this is now leading to many mothers of these children realising what has been going on for them for decades!
Some of these symptoms of ADHD in females may be:
-trouble organising and planning
-time blindness (you can literally “lose” time and have no concept of when in your past things happened in relation to each other)
-working memory problems
-inability to keep things tidy
-extreme emotions and trouble understanding/regulating your emotions
-a feeling of helplessness
-inability to get started on a task
-inability to step away from something you’re enjoying doing
-a complicated relationship with food and alcohol
-feeling like you can’t switch off
(these are far from exhaustive but you get the picture)
These things can be a real juggle for anyone, but with ADHD in the mix it becomes even harder (plus when you add menopause into the mix... well that's something for another blog!)
The simplest way that I have found to explain it is that the general population will experience many of the struggles/symptoms ADHDers do, but for the ADHD person it’s magnified x 10
I’ve put together a resource for you if you resonate with the above list of symptoms. It will help you explore what’s going on for you and includes one of the first questionnaires your GP will ask you to complete if you seek assessment - you can grab it here
But realising you are probably ADHD and self-diagnosing or having a formal diagnosis confirmed is just the starting point
The confirmation only gives you a new label, it doesn’t actually help you change anything about your experience which can be very confusing, frustrating and isolating.
I’ll be covering more about the support available for (Maybe) ADHDers in a future blog so watch out for this and sign up for my newsletter if you want to make sure you don’t miss it!
In the meantime you can also join my friendly FREE community for (Maybe) ADHD women if you’re looking for support and answers about your ADHD journey. AND don't forget to listen to my podcast "This Beautiful Chaos" for more ADHD exploration!