- Myth: That we can’t have ADHD if it doesn’t look like the stereotypical young boy version
- Myth: That adults don’t have ADHD, because boys grow out of it
- In adults the rate of male to female ADHD is 1:1
- ADHD impairments in women are experienced and treated differently than for men
- Women with ADHD experience greater life challenges than men
- In children the rate of boys to girls being diagnosed is still 3:1
- This means that not enough adults like parents, teachers and health professional know how to recognize ADHD in girls
- Boys tend to externalize their ADHD challenges, which gets noticed and leads to diagnosis
- Girls tend to try to meet cultural, social and gender expectations and work extremely hard to hide their impairments, their suffering tends to be internalized making it harder to notice or diagnose
- Women are mistakenly told they couldn’t have ADHD if they are too smart/successful/organized
- Women who can conform to expectations do, and women with ADHD are no different in that regard
- To understand women with ADHD and how we present ourselves to the world, I love how Dr. Littman put it: “clinicians cannot underestimate the extent to which women measure their self-worth by their success in conforming to gender expectations.”
- Frequently are overwhelmed, frustrated, and chronically exhausted
- Have an ingrained desire for social acceptance that leads to hiding problems from family and friends, and sometimes even ourselves, starting at a very young age
- Have a deep-seated fear of being revealed as an imposter, complete with doubt in any confidence we might feel,
- easily putting ourselves down, or having quick ways to compare ourselves to others and finding ourselves coming up short
- feel judged, misunderstood, and expect criticism
- have a higher risk of earlier trauma, of physical, sexual abuse and neglect
- longer we go undiagnosed the more likely to develop less healthy ways of managing symptoms.
- most have at least one co-morbid disorder or significant life challenge:
- mood, emotions, eating, social impairments, employment, and struggles with job functioning.
- experience frequent headaches, including migraines, stomach aches, nausea, and sleep issues.
- experience pain more intensely than men
- have heightened Central Nervous Systems that leads to sensory sensitivities
- Having ADHD has physical, mental, and emotional impacts on our health that are not understood by many.
- undiagnosed or undertreated ADHD requires a herculean effort to try meet expectations and has many women exhausted ALL THE TIME
- We deserve, and have a right to expect that we get the support and treatment we need
- Best Web resources for Women with ADHD according to ADDitude
- Gender Differences in ADHD
- 5 ADHD Symptoms that are often overlooked in Women, according to Experts
- This new podcast about Women, Hormones & ADHD is everything
- The Lost Girls: Chaotic and curious, women with ADHD all have missed red flags that haunt us
- What Three Young Women Have to Teach Us about ADHD
- Didier, C., Duryea, K., Hughes, R., Indergaard, J. (2019, Nov. 9). The underdiagnosis of ADHD in Girl’s and Women [Conference presentation]. CHADD 2019, Philadelphia, PA.
- Dodson, W. (2020, Nov.5 ) The Forgotten ADHD Medications: The Alpha2a Adrenergic Agonists [Conference presentation]. CHADD 2020, (Virtual Event)
Littman, E.B. (2020, Dec,15 ) Why ADHD is Different for Women: Gender Specific Symptoms & Treatments .[adhd experts webinars]. ADDitudemag.com 2020, (Virtual Event)
Nadeau, Kathleen G., Littman, Ellen B., Quinn, Patricia O., (2016) Understanding Girls with ADHD. Chevy Chase, Maryland: Advantage Books.
- Robson, C. (2019, Nov.8) Frenzied, Frazzled and Overwhelmed. [Conference presentation]. CHADD 2019, Philadelphia, PA.
Solden, Sari. (2005) Women with Attention Deficit Disorder: Embrace your differences and transform your life. Ann Arbor, MI: Introspect Press.
Weiss, M., (2020, Oct. 23). Gender-Related Differences in Functional Impairment [Conference presentation]. CADDRA 2020, Virtual Event.
Moira Maybin 00:05
ADHD remains under recognized, misunderstood, and mistreated, especially in women. Today we’re talking about common misperceptions and the ways ADHD can present differently and women. Welcome to the ADHD friendly lifestyle. This is the place to practice putting on our own oxygen mask so we can breathe and make it possible to show up in our own lives without guilt or shame. I’m your host, Moira Maybin, a woman, Mom, educator, and I have late diagnosed ADHD. We can have an ADHD friendly lifestyle that includes more time with our strengths and passions. Less with our challenges, has ways to adjust what and how we do things to suit us better, and expand the ways and places that ADHD is understood and accepted. I suspect many of us have asked the same questions I did. Why is life so hard? Why does it seem easier for literally everyone else? There are things that I wish I had known about my ADHD sooner that are allowing me to make different decisions to make my life better and more ADHD friendly. And I want to share them with you. I finally understand that to live well. My lifestyle is not negotiable. It must work for me. It must be healthy. And yep, it’s got to be ADHD friendly. I want to thank you for choosing this podcast. It is a labor of love for me, and I have been touched deeply by the emails and reviews sharing how my words are helping you. Please take the time to review, share, and subscribe to the podcast on the player of your choice. Going to be experimenting with a few different things on upcoming episodes, to try and see if there are ways that I can get this to fit better in my life, make it a little bit more ADHD friendly for me. We’re in this together. If you have questions or ideas for me, you can share them at ADHD friendly lifestyle calm. While you’re there, subscribe to the podcast and sign up for emails to get every episode delivered to your inbox and be the first to hear what is going on. Okay, let’s get started.
Moira Maybin 02:18
I grew up not knowing I had ADHD, I worked hard at trying to blend in and hide things I found hard. I also use intelligence to figure out hacks to I never felt very smart and had impulse control issues. But it was good enough playing the social game that people like me a very high priority for me. My parents would lovingly say, we don’t know where this energy comes from. I believe that the things I struggled with came from my own poor choices. I worked so hard to manage myself, always monitoring my behavior. I didn’t realize that my experience wasn’t the norm. I had to speed going all out or exhausted. The stress of constantly expecting criticism, feeling ashamed, frantic, of being unable to explain why our brain won’t listen to us can become the narrative in our lives that drowns out everything else. In the following episodes number 18 and 19. We’ll dig deeper into what we can do to increase the chances of getting an accurate diagnosis and supportive treatment. When women are brave enough to take some steps towards determining if they have ADHD, or just what the hell is going on. We find ourselves with unnecessary obstacles, like having to justify our experiences to others who may try to tell us that wasn’t our experience, our needs and even diagnosis. And this often stems from inaccuracies about who can have ADHD, or how ADHD presents the most common one is that we couldn’t possibly have ADHD. Because our ADHD doesn’t present like it doesn’t young white boys. This is the group that is most researched and well known. Many people still think of ADHD as a male dominated behavioral disorder that decreases with age yet that just isn’t true. ADHD in women was found as an unexpected outcome of studies that also established that this is a lifelong condition. Research shows that the rate of ADHD is the same in all genders. Even now, for every girl diagnosed three times as many boys are meaning health professionals, teachers and parents don’t yet know what ADHD looks like in girls. adult women with ADHD, who have spent decades without treatment and support are the fastest growing group being diagnosed. all genders experienced the same impairments. But the reality is the same ADHD impairment in a man is both experienced and treated differently in women. This leads to greater significant life challenges for women with ADHD. We can go through life believing incorrect messages about ourselves based on faulty information, leading to shame, self-criticism and guilt which can stop us in our tracks. Feeling incapable of having the life we both want and deserve one of the best characterizations describing gender differences in ADHD that I’ve heard was that boys experienced challenges related to ADHD, presenting externally in their actions and words, and that impacts others. That impact on others makes their struggles get noticed. And it leads to a greater chance of diagnosis. with girls. Our struggles are kept hidden as much as possible, cloaked under the many layers of social, cultural and gender expectations of how we are supposed to be. So our challenges related to ADHD are much less likely to be demonstrated externally. And they show up in our internal world, mental, physical, and emotional suffering. That is easier to miss or miss diagnose. I’ll dig into that more deeply in a few minutes. Another one we hear is you’re too “insert adjective here” to have ADHD, whether it’s smart or successful, or whatever that adjective is. The bottom line is that women who can conform to expectations do our society’s gender roles have required a lot of women deference, empathy, cooperation, efficiency, organization, and the sacrifices necessary to always put others needs first. Then if you can get to spring class or bake those cookies, that’s great, too. That’s a lot of expectations. Women with ADHD often present as being overwhelmed, frustrated, and chronically exhausted. No surprise when we start considering that in addition to trying to put on a front, we also have neurobiological impairments too. I was told by the psychologist diagnosing my son that she didn’t think I had ADHD because I was so organized. Well, yes, I was. But at what cost? After my diagnosis, I realized that I spent an incredible amount of time trying to organize and reorganize myself, because I can become disorganized, so flipping quickly and easily. Some of us develop unhealthy coping strategies like perfectionism, trying to rigidly create structure or order someone like being obsessive or compulsive. It’s one of the many masks we wear and trying to pass for neurotypical just to fit in.
Moira Maybin 07:17
To understand women with ADHD and how we present ourselves to the world. I love how Dr. Littman puts it. Clinicians cannot underestimate the extent to which women measure their self-worth, by their success in conforming to gender expectations. People who thrive with that juggling act are unicorns because the rule demands a perfect choreography of executive functions that we simply do not have. Women with ADHD are not wired for the unrealistic demands of such an overwhelming reality, as we tried desperately determined to manage ourselves family at home, this ingrained desire for social acceptance leads to hiding our problems from family and friends. And sometimes even ourselves. Starting at a very young age, I still have a hard time relaxing around other people, even in my own home. Because I feel like I should be seen to be doing something more productive. I can relax with my family. But even that can be concerted effort, we can have a deep-seated fear of being revealed as an imposter, complete with doubt and any confidence we might feel easily putting ourselves down or having quick ways to compare ourselves to others and finding ourselves come up short. I spent many years feeling overwhelmed with the demands of being a mother, especially to kids with ADHD. And even now I have some guilt about not being the mother I want it to be. I recently thought back many years I spent looking after other people’s children and realize that the critical difference wasn’t just that I was much younger. But more importantly, was that those children went home every day, I did my shift I was on. And then I was able to retreat in my own world not feeling responsible for them. As a parent, babies, children’s teens, they don’t let you do that. Trying to meet an unattainable bar for being a woman, parent partner. Any number of roles we have, has a cost to our mental and physical well-being. This is why it is so important for our health professionals and loved ones. To understand the degree to which women experience shame and stigma that grows in this darkness. It can make us unwilling and completely petrified to share our perceived failures or to ask for help. But it’s by shining light and voicing these experiences that I hope will make it easier for us to talk about all of this.
Moira Maybin 12:31
For those of you listening and saying to yourself, holy shit, this is me. I can tell you that with diagnosis, treatment support, and the work that I continue to do. These beliefs are being replaced by more ADHD friendly ones. I hosted a small dinner party last weekend with one of my very dear longtime friends, one of the rare non typical ones. But her ability to love me for myself has long been a treasured part of our friendship. She and her husband always make hosting look easy. Making a lasagna spontaneously, no problem. For me that is a major undertaking. I issued the invitation without a thought for making dinner. I just wanted to spend time with them. then realize not only have we planned a family outing that morning, but I had zero interest in cooking, what saves the day. During the pandemic, a local restaurant introduced a weekly feature called take and bake. They prepared a lovely meal including dessert, and a wine pairing that we could pick up a few hours before to reheat even better, they included tips on how to pass it off as my own. Knowing these friends, I swapped out the containers and as a joke, did pass off the entire meal as our own efforts until after dessert. Then I whispered to their five-year-old mommy and daddy that we didn’t make the dinner at all. He delighted and spilling the beans. And the truth came out. And our friends said they’ve been so amazed at how prepared calm, cool and collected we were. We had even roped in the teenagers to get their mom out of the kitchen before dinner. And she always likes to help with the meals, something I’ve never got. She had been having these questioning and comparing thoughts like how are they doing this? What is it look so easy for them? We had a good laugh about it. But honestly, it was almost like having it catered without the cost. Tonight, we are supporting a local bakery who to survive the pandemic started making a weekly meal. And with a $20 order we’ll deliver it to reheat I can get a dozen donuts of my choice as well as a family style meal delivered once a week at the fraction of the cost of takeout. Sign me up. And I don’t care who knows it. I’ve got more important things to do with my brain power, like perhaps finishing this episode today. All kidding aside, women with ADHD have a higher risk of earlier trauma of physical and sexual abuse and neglect. Compounding that sad statistic, the longer we go undiagnosed, the more likely we are of developing less healthy ways of managing by adulthood. Most women have at least One comorbid disorder, or significant life challenges involving mood, emotions, eating, social impairments, employment, and struggles with job function. Many women with ADHD feel judged, misunderstood, and expect criticism, we can experience intense emotions to real or perceived rejections, we can face ongoing struggles with managing our emotions that bite us in the ass when we have large over reactions, or reactions that other people perceive as overreactions. Because they don’t have the full context, our understanding of the years of pain and impulsivity behind what we do. And yet, it doesn’t seem to be something within our control. I have tended to yell when I’m upset, and it’s taken a long time to unpack. But at the root of it is this, I begin to literally raise my voice when I feel misunderstood or unheard. That was a huge epiphany. rationally, I know that saying that thing louder isn’t going to increase the chances of being understood. When I act that way, I can set myself up for further isolation, that people around don’t understand why, and how this happens. The same can go for us. And more importantly, we don’t often know what can be done about it. Yes, there is treatment for this. After years of working on this and more traditional approaches, I have found relief with a non-stimulant medication. If you haven’t heard the episode about medications, check it out, because it changed my life. Now I have more of an ability to pause. So, I don’t immediately react. And in that moment, with my awareness of why I yell, I can start to be curious, or question what part of the situation makes me feel unheard or misunderstood? Sometimes with smaller things I can course correct and adopt a more problem-solving approach. I’m not always able to do that. And sometimes I do need help from others to stand down, then it is about surviving the moment not solving the problem. Later, when I feel able to, I reflect problem solve and repair a relationship if need be. The more I do this, the less often it happens. None of this would be able to happen though if I wasn’t taking my non stimulant like guanfacine. That helps with my emotional regulation in the first place. When women with ADHD talk to each other. We’re often amazed at experiences we have in common that is backed up by research, like frequent headaches, including migraines, stomach aches, nausea, and sleep issues. Women with ADHD experienced pain more intensely than men. We have heightened central nervous systems. struggles with regulating our central nervous system is another factor for women with ADHD to deal with. This shows up as sensitivity to touch sound, light, and other sensory issues to those of you parenting children with ADHD may know this very well about your children. One thing I’m noticing about my children as they age, this sensitivity seems to be decreasing for my son through puberty and increasing for my daughter. I appreciate that for him, as his struggles have been significant in this area.
Moira Maybin 18:08
This may be one reason why previously it was believed that boys grow out of ADHD. I’m working with my daughter to create strategies that help her it certainly is a different world and fabrics for clothes now, and that helps for sure. Despite growing understanding what ADHD in general, understanding ADHD and women remains misunderstood. This creates an added layer to deal with that we just don’t need or deserve to change that we need to expand our understanding and awareness of the many shades and variations of ADHD. This is going to be part of our ongoing conversation. This episode has highlighted what research has shown for women with ADHD. Yet we know that ADHD exists for all genders, which creates additional layers and challenges that have yet to be researched.
Moira Maybin 18:59
Okay, you’ve done the hard work by staying to the end your reward. Here are the main takeaways from today’s episode. There is a massive lack of understanding about how ADHD presents in women. The sheer amount of effort put in trying to meet expectations, keeping struggles hidden or internalized. cloaked under the many layers of social, cultural and gender expectations of how we are supposed to has many women completely exhausted all the time. For the things we throw up our hands in the air and give up on there are many layers of emotional mental turmoil typically attached to that. Whatever the world sees are only the tip of the iceberg. This has physical, mental, and emotional impacts on our health. To be clear, I mean women who are either undiagnosed or under treated for the ADHD, it doesn’t have to be this way. When we get the support and treatment, we have a right to expect. I hope you enjoyed today’s show. This is the place for the late diagnosed women moms professionals. Those who want to understand ADHD be heard and know they are not alone. An ADHD friendly lifestyle is for those of us who are done with trying harder and want healthy, sustainable lives that pay attention to our own particular needs and challenges with ADHD. We want to have the capacity to pursue our goals, dreams and passions with more joy and ease, and have tomorrow be a more ADHD friendly day. I’d love to know your thoughts about today’s episode and appreciate questions you’d like to hear on the show too. All questions will be anonymous, respected and appreciated. And I can’t wait to continue this conversation with you. To get in touch you can check out my website, ADHDfriendlylifestyle.com email Moira@ADHDfriendlylifestyle.com Please remember, I am not a doctor. The information presented in this podcast does not replace the individual recommendations from your health care providers. You can help by subscribing to the ADHD friendly lifestyle on Apple podcast or the podcast player of your choice. You can also help spread the word by sharing this podcast with the people in your life and by taking the time to rate and review. Thanks for listening. See you later.