ADHD in Females— A Lot Different Than You Think


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ADHD often makes one’s brain slower to process information, sometimes leading to one feeling overwhelmed by many things happening at once.

When told a child or adolescent has ADHD, most people quickly imagine someone who is very hyper and incredibly energetic. Many also usually think of them as calling out randomly in class and not being able to stay still for long periods of time. Although this might be true for many who are diagnosed with ADHD, symptoms vary from person to person, and it is not just that; there is so much more to this disorder. In fact, many females go undiagnosed for ADHD because it usually appears so differently with them than with males.

What is ADHD?

According to the Center for Disease Control, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, also known as ADHD, is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that may affect attention, concentration, impulse control, and energy levels. ADHD is usually diagnosed in childhood, but anyone at any age can have and be diagnosed with it.

The Three Types of ADHD

Within the broad term of ADHD, there are three general types. Based on the information gathered from the Center for Disease Control and Healthline, the Hyperactive-Impulsive type is the most stereotypical of the three. This type includes symptoms of restlessness, being hyper, excessive talking. Others include interruption during conversation, have difficulty waiting their turn, and have little impulse control. 

The second is the Inattentive type, formerly known as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). For those with this type, they will likely struggle with concentration, organization skills, as well as difficulty paying attention to details or following instructions. Other symptoms include often making seemingly “careless mistakes,” such as losing things, daydreaming frequently, and a great difficulty starting or carrying through with tasks, especially those that require more mental focus or energy. 

The final general type of ADHD is known as Combination. It is, as its name suggests, a combination or blending of the two types above. This type is the most common, but may be the most confusing or difficult to diagnose as it does not directly fall into a category. There is not just one presentation of Combination ADHD, as each individual may have varying mixtures of symptoms and struggles. 

Factors that May Increase the Chance for ADHD

Psychiatry-UK stated that ADHD is a hereditary condition and that symptoms of family members may present similarly in other members. This does not mean that one has to have a family member diagnosed with ADHD to also have the condition as well. The CDC further elaborated that there is no direct cause of ADHD, but there are other factors that are common in those diagnosed. The factors are premature birth, low birth weight, alcohol or tobacco use before delivery/birth, exposure to environmental risk such as lead before delivery/birth, and brain injury.  

On the bright side, there are more and more females who are sharing their experiences and medical professionals that recognize the difference in experiences.”

Females Are Less Likely to be Diagnosed with ADHD

As reported in Healthline, females are often misdiagnosed with some other disorder with similar symptoms or the idea of them having ADHD is completely pushed away. A major factor in these unfortunate occurrences is the fact that ADHD often presents very differently than the usual assumption or knowledge most have regarding it.

Females Are More Likely to be Diagnosed with the Inattentive Type

As explained by Verywell Health, females tend to show more distracted symptoms. This, however, does not mean that it is impossible for them to have other symptoms or presentation; it simply means this is the most recognized form. Detailed by Healthline, Verywell Health, and Psychiatry-UK, the symptoms most commonly found in females with ADHD are:

  • Trouble focusing or paying attention, especially for long periods of time
  • Having a hard time noticing details 
  • Often needing to take breaks to complete activities or assignments
  • Being overwhelmed easily and more emotional than their peers
  • Difficulty sticking to routines or schedules 
  • Time distortion or blindness
  • May have trouble with impulsivity (with actions, words, spending or buying things)
  • Forgetting or having a poor memory  
  • Being messy or disorganized 
  • Taking longer to understanding and/or process information
  • Difficulty making, keeping, and/or understanding friendships 

These are, of course, just some symptoms of the many symptoms that can occur, as well as specific examples of how symptoms show from person to person. As a disclaimer, showing only a few symptoms may indicate a concern that an individual may have ADHD, but the more symptoms one shows, the more likely that the cause is in fact a form of ADHD.

Why is ADHD Often Missed in Females?

As explained by Healthline,Verywell Health, and Psychiatry-UK, there are many unfortunate reasons ADHD is commonly missed. Firstly, most assessments and symptoms have been observed in males and are still used today. On the bright side, there are more and more females who are sharing their experiences and medical professionals that recognize the difference in experiences. Due to the slow-coming recognition, many teachers and parents do not know what to look for in females as more research geared towards them is still underway. 

It is sad that when females first seek help since their symptoms may be initially pushed off as personality traits or immaturity, rather than indicators of a much more difficult and expansive cause. Many females may also not be seen because they may not be as outwardly spoken as their male counterparts with the same condition.

Compensation is often seen in females as well, and is a symptom that can lead to a wrong or no diagnosis. One may compensate by spending extra energy to complete tasks on time, potentially hiding hyperactive symptoms. One may also confide in others for assistance. Making lists and obsessive organizing may also be observed.

Additionally, symptoms may be hidden by other psychological disorders such as depression or anxiety. These other disorders often coincide with ADHD. Due to these conditions potentially overlapping, one may be diagnosed with one or both of these and be overlooked for ADHD.  

How To Seek a Diagnosis

If you or anyone you know shows multiple and frequent symptoms of ADHD, you may want to seek a diagnosis. To obtain a diagnosis you can initially go to a general healthcare provider such as your regular doctor or pediatrician. Psychiatrists, child psychologists, and pediatricians have the ability to diagnose people with ADHD. Psychiatrists and some other medical professionals can prescribe medication, if that is a path you may also be considering. Note that a diagnosis is not just a one-time visit, but a series of visits, assessments, and the ruling out of other diagnoses. 

If you’re a female seeking a diagnosis, ensure to speak up and be heard about your symptoms.