The ADHD stereotype is gender based as a disruptive and hyperactive little boy. Stereotypes can be unhelpfully misleading as less disruptive boys with inattentive ADHD can be overlooked in classrooms for years. Girls have an even tougher time as not only are their ADHD symptoms overlooked, but they are also at risk of misdiagnosis due to their more subtle symptoms and their coping strategies that mask their struggles. It is not unusual for generalised anxiety to be the initial symptom identified and when this doesn’t respond to treatment, depression may be the next treatment strategy. It certainly doesn’t help that ADHD symptoms flux with hormone cycles.
Historically ADHD was considered a childhood condition suffered by boys. Now we know it is a lifelong condition that impacts both genders, and we suspect the skew in the numbers may well disappear as more girls are correctly diagnosed.
All individuals with inattentive symptoms tend to present with difficulties in paying attention to accurately complete boring, detail focused activities, to follow through on instructions to completion without getting side-tracked or distracted and have trouble organizing tasks and activities.
These executive function struggles make the world of being an adult with its infinite loops of administration, maintenance and keeping on top of relationship and family needs exhausting.
Rejection sensitivity may add another emotional complexity layer to relationships in the workplace and at home for both genders.
Girls and women who wish to conform to gender role expectations who cannot run a tidy home may feel they are lazy or incapable. Girls and young women often struggle to acknowledge and express the chronic underlying feelings of inadequacy and shame, they are more inclined to internalize their problems, thereby making diagnosis even more of a challenge.
Undiagnosed girls and young women are, like their male counterparts, at risk of low self-esteem, underachievement and problems like depression and anxiety. They are also more susceptible, at a younger age, to pregnancies and behavioural issues like smoking or drinking alcohol. They typically take their difficulties into adulthood and are sometimes only diagnosed later in life when their children are diagnosed with ADHD.
It is important to get the correct diagnosis for both girls and boys with ADHD as early as possible. An early diagnosis and intervention may lead to more effective, successful, and possibly shorter treatment. The correct support can facilitate long term social, emotional, and academic success.
It is also important to remember it is never too late to learn how to work with late diagnosed ADHD.