Sunday, October 16, 2011

Now--ADHD Girls and Women: The Signs You May Not Know

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." — Henry David Thoreau

I was diagnosed with ADHD in 2003 because I knew something was wrong. I didn't know what it was precisely, but there was no possibility that my talent, intelligence, and good upbringing could have lived in the same quarters with my irrational behavior, impulsiveness, depression, and stress for so long without realizing at some point something was wrong.

So I left the doctor's office that blessed day singing Hallelujah to the high heavens after the fourth series of extensive tests. It was the first test that came back with a 56 out of 100 (and there had been many in science and math) that I was elated to see. And my mother was elated to see it as well. There in black ink, on an official, doctor type of paperwork, there is was:

Sarah is not a liar. She actually does not see the cock-a-doody thing right in front of her and she really doesn't remember where she left that rack-a-frackis thing or that you asked her to bring it to you in the first place. So there. Nah-nah-nah. 

Those weren't the specialist's exact words, but all the same, that's about what it said. You're smart. You're talented. But you can't pay attention to save your life. 

I like to tell a story from that series of testing that demonstrates that point. In one session they show you a series of pictures. It starts off with a simple object then the pictures grow more complex. They don't tell you why or how the testing works so the instructions,"Tell me what's missing" leaves an analytical person wondering.

One picture showed a woman holding hands with her child along the beach.

"What's missing?" The specialist asked, not even looking up from his stop watch.

I thought about it--not noticing anything obvious--so I decided that maybe they were testing me psychologically.

"Um...the father?"

And I wonder why my doctors are always grinning in spite of themselves.

My short term memory is terrible and it's gotten worse over the years. But I my long term memory is better and I started considering some of the signs that we couldn't have known were signs. We are who we are, even as babies, even as children. Looking back I was able to ascertain there are symptoms that may go unnoticed--especially since girls and women are under diagnosed:


1. Constipation

I had issues with constipation up until the age of maybe 5 or 6. It wasn't that I couldn't use the bathroom, it's that I didn't WANT to go through the STEPS of using the bathroom. People with ADHD are overwhelmed by activities (that they don't enjoy or that are interesting to them) with multiple steps. As a child, if I was preoccupied with an activity of interest, I would simply hold it. And after a while--after the doctors said there was nothing really wrong with me--it started becoming an issue.

2. Hearing Problems

When I was five, before I went into Kindergarten, we were in for a check up. I was a shy child, timid almost, but Mom asked him if there was anything else I thought I wanted to take care of at the office. I said,"Mom I think my hearing needs to be checked."

I couldn't even read yet, but I intuited there was something wrong with my hearing. And there wasn't. Because there was nothing wrong with my hearing, there was something wrong with my listening. And there was something wrong with my listening because my thoughts were always rapid, loud, and attention consuming. "My thoughts are loud" is a phrase I learned through High School into my young adulthood. And they are. It's difficult to focus when you are constantly absorbed with thoughts that shoot like a toddler with a machine gun.

3. Compulsions and Odd Behavior

Children with ADHD--especially girls--are labeled with "weird" more often than not. It's not even antisocial behavior, it's that the advantages of having ADHD--fierce creativity and imagination and the ability to hyper focus--can affect the way that peers receive and interpret children with ADHD.  Also, ADHD girls may not focus on their appearance as much (that also has to do with steps--not wanting to brush teeth, bathe, etc) which will affect how others perceive them, despite the fact they may be a perfectly lovely and pleasant child.

But you may find your ADHD girl often stares off into nothing, talks to herself or people who are not there, or may even portray OCD behavior like counting objects obsessively or going through bizarre routines. The ADHD child is intelligent and aware that this behavior is not "normal" and will attempt to keep it hidden, so this may be a sign that is hard to detect.


1. You ruin all your clothing.

Pens, bleach, food--you name it. I've thrown out more clothing because of something I've done than any other reason. Because you're not paying attention to what you're doing, it's easy to make mistakes over and over again that could be easily avoided.

2. You don't see things that are right in front of you.

The picture test proved one thing for me--I really don't see things that are obviously right there. This is why people with ADHD are accused of lying or being lazy. They honestly don't notice things that are right in front of them.

3. You have odd physical ailments.

In my first year of management the doctor saw me more than the mercury end of a thermometer. I had tendinitis  pleurisy, and my hands and feet would start going numb and tingling at the exact same time every night. The later was completely due to stress; the others, the doctor assured, surely stemmed from stress as well.

Everyone gets stressed out. People with ADHD get more stressed out because they forget, misplace, and take more time to complete tasks with steps. Women, who are usually more prone to self obligation and guilt, get a double dose. They are working and they are raising families. They are ashamed of their messy house and their unfinished projects. And they aren't getting the help they need.


1. Get Diagnosed

I found comfort in the diagnosis itself. I saw all the teacher's notes ("doesn't reach her full potential/seems to day dream/is not turning in papers on time") in a new light. I will always be responsible for my choices. But it wasn't ALWAYS my character or personality that was the culprit. Diagnosis is the first step. Often a specialist can point you in the right direction

2. Get Medicated

If you choose to try medicine, be patient with it. Most medications have side affects that won't last forever or your body will acclimate itself to the effects. I just discontinued the medication I took for seven years and the first few months were rough. But I prayed myself through it and it helped. Sometimes you can discuss options and you may not need a prescription specific to ADHD.

3. Ask for Help

My family and friends were helpful in understanding and assisting with my ADHD. People WANT to help--ask them. My mother read books about ADHD and about being close to a loved one with ADHD. There are plenty of books. If you're single, then accept what you can't change and get help with what you can. Avoid dating people who are too structured and want you to "snap out of it." There are some things that will never change. There are plenty of little strategies that will help tremendously. People love you. They will remind you. They will understand if you work with them to understand who you are and how you function differently.

And don't try to do it all. Appreciate your positive points and remember: the woman who gets up at 5 a.m. to run and make breakfast out of freshly picked berries is not who you are patterning your life after. Some can do it--some need to creatively find ways to make their life work--and shine.

Congratulations on being a woman with ADHD: there is no deficit to your creativity.

1 comment:

  1. I also have ADHD (I was not diagnosed until I was an adult). So does my husband (he learned to suppress his and was diagnosed as a child) and unfortunately, so does my son. Naturally, I seem to be drawn to animals with the same attention spans. I can misplace my keys when I set them down in front of me on my desk. I forget to do things like to-do items on my list (I have enough lists to task an army because I keep misplacing them), pick up items someone told me to get or get distracted by something mundane. I can relate. :)