WHAT DOES ADHD LOOK LIKE IN WOMEN?
Linda Wechter-Ashkin Ph.D NCSP BC-TMHC ADHD CCSP
Although there are many similarities, ADHD may look different in women. Women with ADHD tend to have higher rates of mood, anxiety, and eating disorders than males, are more likely to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders and have higher incidences of substance abuse and chronic pain, neurotypical peers.
Many women have not even considered the possibility of ADHD and either have a child that’s been diagnosed or are being treated for hormonal issues, mental health issues, eating disorders, and life/stress issues, when their clinician realizes that ADHD may be a comorbidity. Part of the reason women often get into adulthood without a diagnosis is because of their predominantly inattentive presentation, which does not catch the eye of parents and teachers. They don’t have as much hyperactivity in general, so they just get overlooked.
The problem is that these women were often labeled as flighty, lazy, or unmotivated as a child and adolescent leading to shame, learned helplessness, and feelings of having no control of their lives and their actions. They know something is not right but can’t prove it leading to self-doubt and confusion. They may try to overcompensate with perfectionism, and often feel like they are hiding a deep secret. Many develop negative patterns of emotional regulation and never learn how to deal with distress or frustration.
So, if you are an adult now and you think you may have ADHD well the first step is to let us or a psychologist who specializes in Adult ADHD evaluate you. You may want to choose medication treatment which we will discuss at length down the line but there are side effects so it’s important you explore that decision with your doctor thoroughly. Even if you choose medication, I highly suggest you find a psychologist that specializes in both ADHD and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness training to help you to change unwanted thoughts and behaviors and to help with emotional regulation and executive functioning skills. Collaborative treatment may be important to help you through some of the other life issues you might be facing. These treatments may include couples’ or family therapy, life coaching, a registered dietician, mindfulness groups, or social skills classes.
You will want to work on building a toolkit for emotional regulation This may include pausing and grounding techniques, learning to identify triggers to fight/flight/freeze in ADHD context, developing a feelings wheel or list of descriptors to increase emotion identification, and mindfulness techniques to manage negative self-talk and automatic negative and intrusive thoughts. Cognitive diffusion exercises are useful to help you to become present and targeting cognitive distortions can help you to build up your own inner coach. It will be important to consider the role of executive functioning challenges that effect time management, organizational skills, initiating, and can cause procrastination and ineffective work habits and life strategies.
So, if you think you have undiagnosed ADHD let us help. There is work to do. You need the correct diagnosis, the correct treatment plan, and a toolbox to get you to the full potential you always knew was there.