about ADHD & Female-Bodied Clients
October is ADHD Awareness Month, so it seems appropriate to discuss the increasing rates of ADHD diagnoses and other executive functioning disorders among folks assigned female at birth (AFAB). So much research has gone into the effects of ADHD in males, and this has led to boys getting a more accurate timely and diagnosis than girls.
The problem is, most scientific studies about ADHD symptoms focus on the “hyperactive” patterns, which are far more common in males because they show up as big or disruptive behaviors. Because girls with ADHD show less hyperactive behavior, they tend to go undiagnosed or are given inaccurate diagnoses like anxiety or depression; the hyperactivity doesn’t occur any less – it just shows up as hyperactivity or over-functioning in the brain.
I liken it to needing 75 mental tabs open in order to focus on one task – or needing to be in various stages of multiple projects to focus on just one.
As a result of this invisible hyperactivity, women’s and AFAB folks’ executive functioning issues often continue into adulthood.
ADHD Symptoms in Adult Women & AFAB Folks
Because young girls don’t show the same ADHD behaviors as boys, they tend to get misdiagnosed as having anxiety or depression – which can co-occur with ADHD, but often are symptoms rather than a comorbid experience. Subsequently, most women are not accurately diagnosed until they are well into their 30s or even 40s.
Here are some of the signs of ADHD in adult women:
- Low self-esteem
- Issues with time management
- Difficulty prioritizing tasks
- Feeling overwhelmed by a large or growing number of tasks, but the inability to begin
- Difficulty transitioning between tasks
- Difficulty with completing tasks or projects
- Difficulty with money management
- Disorganization or clutter
- A history of anxiety or depression
- Difficulty implementing and maintaining routines
- Sleep disruptions – not being able to fall asleep until late at night or early morning
- Compulsive overeating
- A dependence on drugs and alcohol
Therapy and medication are the most common forms of treatment for ADHD in women and adult AFAB clients. While medication can’t cure ADHD, it can offer immediate relief of some symptoms, thus significantly and quickly improve your quality of life. Often, medication can provide the ability to focus, which leads to higher energy and a higher likelihood of motivation or task completion, which in turn leads to improved self-esteem.
Psychotherapy and ADHD-focused coaching can provide life-management skills and coping strategies, which help build self-esteem.
Therapy can also help address the Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria that co-occurs in about 60 percent of people with ADHD.
RSD is characterized by feeling extreme emotional – and sometimes physical pain – because of real, perceived, or predicted feelings of failure or rejection. This often can lead folks to stay in a state of stasis or “freeze,” preventing them from taking risks that may improve their quality of life, develop or improve relationships, or help them grow as a person.
I also advise many of my clients to join support groups to connect with other AFAB people who understand what they are experiencing. Often when we are dealing with mental health issues, we feel isolated and alone – and in this case, resentful at having an issue go unaddressed for so long. There is a sense of loss and grief at what could have been if they’d only been diagnosed sooner. Connecting with others of a similar experience can do a lot decrease those feelings of isolation and to create a supportive community of creative problem-solvers.
If you are an adult woman or AFAB person and think you may be suffering from ADHD, please reach out to a mental health professional. Life gets so much better when your ADHD symptoms are under control and you have the emotional freedom to begin developing coping skills that work for you.
If you’d like to explore treatment options, please reach out to Prism – we can provide assessment and diagnosis, medication management, and psychotherapy services.