ADHD Gender Bias: Why it’s Different for Women
ADHD manifests differently in girls and women than in boys and men. Misdiagnosis of ADHD has been a problem in the past because it is more common in girls and women. This discrepancy is due to gender bias and a lack of understanding about inattentive ADHD symptoms. Missing diagnoses can have long-lasting consequences for women, such as low and lower self-esteem, throughout their lives.
Women with ADHD are often undertreated and fail to achieve their goals. Many ADHD women know exactly what they want. But life without a diagnosis can be confusing and overwhelming. Without a diagnosis, goals can become unfocused and impossible to reach. Awareness of ADHD symptoms can help improve your quality of life.
The following are less well-known signs of ADHD. Many of these symptoms are more common in girls and women.
- Low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is more common for girls than it is for boys.
- Self-criticism. Negative self-talk can lead to a poor self-image.
- Anxiety and depression. These are common comorbidities in ADHD.
- Relationship issues. Girls are more likely to have negative friendship interactions than boys.
- Very sensitive to rejection. Rejection-sensitive Dysphoria refers to the severe emotional pain caused by refusal. Experts believe this is caused by altered brain structure.
- Emotional dysregulation. An apparent lack of control over the environment can lead to sudden outbursts or sadness.
- Hyperstimulation – Sensitivities. People with ADHD can become overwhelmed by chaotic, loud environments and feel “frozen.”
- Sensitivities to sugar. ADHD brains can be affected by sugar, which can cause an unavoidable energy crash.
- Inconsistent performance. ADHD people may perform extremely well sometimes but not always well. ADHD people often compare themselves with their “better” version of themselves because of this inconsistency.
- Being late or having poor time awareness. People with ADHD are more likely to be completely absorbed in an activity, and neglect time, particularly if it’s highly engaging.
- Clumsiness. It’s common to be a “klutz,” frequently bumping into or dropping objects.
- Impulsivity. It is possible to act out your negative feelings by skin-picking and cutting. Women are often encouraged to hide or “mask” their symptoms due to gender and societal roles. This ultimately leads to worsening symptoms and poor health outcomes.
Background of ADHD
There are three types of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive, and combined. Inattentive ADHD, the most commonly diagnosed type in girls and women, is the least well-understood.
Neurodivergent brains work differently from neurotypical brains. But, people with ADHD have many hidden talents. Creative pursuits are often a perfect fit for ADHD brains. They can also hold multiple ideas at once. They might be willing to take risks and seek out extreme experiences.
It’s still difficult to function in society if you are always behind. To identify ADHD in women, it’s better to ask specific questions. For example, one could ask, “Do you spend most of your time looking for things, covering up, or coping?” Are you avoiding people because of this? These nuances distinguish ADHD in girls and women from its male counterparts.
Inattentive ADHD can be described as forgetfulness, “spaciness,” or even laziness. You may also need more focus on schoolwork, chores, and activities. Inattentive ADHD people can easily get distracted by stimuli and forget to take care of important items, such as a wallet.
Women suffer the consequences.
Low self-esteem can often be caused by memories of negative reinforcement or guilt. ADHD children’s behavioral and tardiness issues are not ignored or forgotten. This kind of negative reinforcement can lead to negative self-regard and a hypercritical view of oneself later in life. These internalized symptoms are more common among women.
Gendered expectations and roles are why ADHD is often overlooked in women. ADHD symptoms can often be disguised as depression and anxiety in women. Girls and women are more likely to have better strategies to deal with ADHD. This could look like multitasking in class or reading multiple books simultaneously.
Many people living with ADHD are misdiagnosed as they fall below the threshold for a diagnosis. There are fewer diagnoses for girls and women because of bias in treatment referrals. A study found that ADHD services are less recommended by teachers and parents to girls with ADHD. The same information was provided to the participants about ADHD. Participants were more likely to recommend services if a “girl” name was used than a “boy’s.”
ADHD and OCD
A comorbid obsessive-compulsive disorder, a reason for ADHD misdiagnosis among girls, can also be a factor. In 2005, obsessive-compulsive behaviors were found in 11.2% of children with ADHD. Because ADHD symptoms were not properly diagnosed, perfectionist tendencies could lead to delays in diagnosis. What was the result? The result?
Environmental, holistic, or medical treatments are all possible. Holistic therapies that consider individual symptoms are the best. ADHD is like other mental illnesses and disabilities that present differently to each individual. People often struggle with certain challenges more.
Look for a psychiatrist or other health care provider who takes ADHD seriously. ADHD medications, such as Vyvanse or Adderall, can help. ADHD medication in girls has a higher efficacy than that for boys. There have been up to 36 months with positive outcomes. However, it isn’t easy to diagnose. Fortunately, medication use in adult women with ADHD is increasing.
Here are some tips to help you cope
- Combination. Combining medication and behavioral interventions is often the best way to overcome ADHD.
- Learning style. Identify your learning style. For example, use a note-taking app or notebook. Your best learning style can also be applied to organizational methods. Research is key. Then, experiment to find what works best for you.
- Don’t be perfect. Be kind to yourself. Be practical and easy, not perfect and stressful. Remember that perfection is impossible.
- Get active. It would help if you focused on activities that regulate the nervous system (yoga, meditation) and high-energy exercises like running, snowboarding, etc. You can vary intensity and duration to balance hormones such as cortisol and modulate stress. Mixing it up is a great strategy for ADHD.
- Protein. To reduce ADHD symptoms, eat protein. Whey protein was found to reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity among children in a 2020 study. ADHD brains are more likely to consume higher levels of protein for energy. It takes more time to feel tired and mentally unfocused, or even “give up,” when ADHD brains use higher protein levels for energy.
Gender bias can be eliminated, and gender diversity can be incorporated to reduce ADHD diagnostic bias. Many women feel relieved when they receive an ADHD diagnosis. It gives them something concrete to show why they can’t get it together. Better quality of life is possible when ADHD symptoms are diagnosed, treated, and managed for women.