ADHD in Women: Expectation Versus Reality

It’s common for people to label a girl with ADHD as “chatty Cathy” – that enthusiastic girl who is fond of telling lots of stories to her friends. Others may see her as a shy teenager who has a disorganized locker or someone who is a daydreamer. However, what happens when her ADHD is not diagnosed until she turns into a woman? Is there any difference between her experience and that of men with ADHD? 

Although much is known about the various ways ADHD affects children, the impact of the disorder on women is not widely researched. There are differences in some of the symptoms of the disorder in men and women. This perhaps explains why a good number of women grow up being labeled as spacey, dumb, selfish and even lazy. Unfortunately, their symptoms were either disregarded or completely ignored. 

You may consider taking a self-test to find out whether you exhibit some of the symptoms of ADHD if you endured low-self-esteem and childhood insults. It’s crucial to note that ADHD isn’t gender-biased – it exists both in girls and boys and many children fail to outgrow it.

In fact, records show that 50-75 percent of women with the disorder go undiagnosed. Part of the reason for this is that ADHD manifests differently – socially and physiologically – in women. For instance, young girls with ADHD display hyperactivity differently than males and females are more likely to suffer from inattentive ADHD than boys. In addition, the symptoms of hyperactive ADHD tend to be more obvious and disruptive than those of inattentive subtype. 

This explains why it’s often easier to identify a hyperactive boy who hits his fist on the desk repeatedly than a girl who merely daydreams while gazing out the window. Another reason why the female experience of the disorder is invisible is the lack of scientific knowledge, public understanding or resources.

As a result of stigmatization, women with ADHD would rather remain silent about their experiences causing them to feel alone, misunderstood and confused. The truth is that society has placed some expectations on women and this makes women with ADHD live in a “constant state of overwhelm.” 

For instance, women are expected to be the primary parent at home, a planner and an organizer. They are expected to remember anniversaries, birthdays, keep track of events and even handle laundry. All these responsibilities make things even harder for someone with ADHD, especially women. Unfortunately, when ADHD is undiagnosed, it could result in life-damaging consequences like bipolar, OCD, eating disorders, depression, learning disabilities, PTSD, anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, and several others. Also, women encounter the difficulty of getting the right ADHD treatment. 

ADHD is a disorder that affects several aspects of our cognitive abilities, mood, behaviors, and our daily life generally. Consequently, effective treatment for ADHD in women will often require the use of a multimodal approach that involves stress management, psychotherapy, medication, professional organizing and/or ADHD coaching. 

There is also another challenge that women who may be fortunate enough to get the right ADHD diagnosis may face – identifying an ADHD specialist who can offer them the appropriate treatment. The number of clinicians who are experienced in treating adult ADHD are few, but there are even fewer ones who understand the unique challenges that women with ADHD face.

A good number of women with ADHD only discover their ADHD after one of their kids received a diagnosis. As they gradually begin to learn more about the disorder, they also start to identify similar patterns in themselves. 

Signs of ADHD in Women

You may be having some of the symptoms of the disorder but not so sure about it. How then do you know that you may be having some symptoms of ADHD? Here are some of the most common signs of ADHD in women:

  • Always staying late at the office since you seem to work perfectly well when all your colleagues have gone home and everywhere is quiet.
  • Sometimes you feel like you’re drowning in paper, in your car, at home, in your purse and even at work. You experience this uneasy feeling that some forgotten projects and unpaid bills are lurking around under the paper.
  • Your desk is filled with a pile of work and despite your efforts to clean it up, you only succeed in keeping it tidy just for a few days before it returns to its original state.
  • Always spending so much time and effort trying to appear “normal” while hoping that no one notices the real you.
  • Staying in your work always feels difficult because it’s hard to work with the noise your co-workers or customers are making.
  • You seem to find social rules complicated and this also makes friendships difficult to navigate.
  • You don’t like attending parties as well as other social gatherings because you often feel shy and overwhelmed.
  • You usually find yourself talking more than anyone else close to you.
  • Unless you’re discussing a topic that you love or you’re the one talking, your mind always drifts during conversations.
  • You tend to overspend in a bid to compensate for other issues; for instance, you may purchase an expensive present for a friend just to compensate for forgetting their birthday.
  • You have always been seen as a tomboy while growing up because of your energy.
  • You often spend a lot of money, time as well as research on various products to assist you to stay organized, but you still don’t use them.
  • You hardly feel organized with money and you’re often behind with bills.
  • You feel better at the moment after making shopping trips but when the credit card bill arrives, you feel regret.
  • Since you find it hard to do some of the things that society expects from women, people easily assume that you don’t care.
  • You’re always embarrassed whenever you have guests at home because your home is disorganized and cluttered.
  • You sometimes find it hard to decide on what to buy because you feel overwhelmed while in grocery stores.
  • It’s usually difficult to relax and you may become very emotional even with little things you experience. 
  • Sometimes, you feel frustration and crushing sadness that you’re yet to meet your potential.
  • People may sometimes call you “a slob” or “spacey?” Also, you may have the feeling that you’re an imposter and this could be a sign that you have ADHD.

Effective Treatment for Women with ADHD

When it comes to medication for ADHD symptoms, it’s usually more complicated for women than for men. This is because effective medication must consider all aspects of a woman’s life in addition to the treatment of coexisting health conditions. For instance, most women with the disorder are prone to suffer from coexisting anxiety and depression in addition to other challenges such as learning disabilities. 

Understanding the history of substance abuse in women is very crucial because alcohol and drug use disorders are common among women with ADHD. Also, medication for women may become more difficult due to hormone fluctuations across the lifespan (such as puberty, perimenopause as well as menopause) and across the menstrual cycle.

They may even experience an increase in ADHD symptoms when the level of oestrogen drops. This implies that in some medications regimen for treating adult ADHD, hormone replacement may be added.

Women with ADHD can also benefit from other treatment approaches such as parent training. Evidence-based parent management programs have overtime proved to be effective for kids with ADHD and they are also recommended for parents with the disorder. Group therapy is also an excellent ADHD treatment approach for women with ADHD because social problems often develop early for women with ADHD and further increase with age. 

Since a good number of women with ADHD feel rejection and shame, psychotherapy groups that are specifically designed for such groups of women may offer a therapeutic experience. It provides them with a place where they can feel understood and accepted by other women and serves as a safe place to start their journey toward learning to accept themselves more and manage their lives better.

ADHD coaching is actually a new profession that was created in response to the need to provide focus, support and structure for adults with ADHD. You can get assistance from an ADHD life coach via email or telephone. You can also seek career guidance and professional organizing.

How Women with ADHD should Deal with it

One of the first things that women with ADHD need to do is to seek the help of a professional. This is an excellent way to develop appropriate stress management strategies and live a better life. Apart from reducing the impact of ADHD with the support and guidance of an organizer, therapist or an ADHD specialist, here are some of the things that women with ADHD can do at home:

  • As much as possible, try to simplify your life.
  • You just have to understand and accept the challenges associated with ADHD instead of always blaming and judging yourself.
  • Focus more on the things you love.
  • Seek support and structure from friends and family.
  • Go for expert parenting advice.
  • Observe the sources of stress in your daily life and systematically adopt lifestyle changes that will help to lower your stress level significantly.
  • Cultivate self-care habits that are healthy such as proper exercise, good nutrition, and adequate sleep.
  • Create an ADHD-friendly home.
  • Create daily time outs for yourself each day.

Women with ADHD need to get an accurate diagnosis that can help to treat not just the symptoms of the disorder but also other challenges with impairment and functioning. This will help professionals to determine the appropriate ADHD treatment strategies for each woman.


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