Statistically, men are diagnosed with ADHD more often than women because women’s symptoms are easier to overlook. As children, girls may not express the hyperactivity and aggressive behavior characteristic of ADHD. Girls more often present with only the inattentive aspect of the disorder. Girls with ADHD who remain undiagnosed mature into women whose symptoms may be mistaken for depression, anxiety, or a personality disorder.
Women often wrestle with issues of self-image, shame, and self-confidence throughout their lives, whether they have ADHD or not. Social conditioning encourages females to exhibit “ladylike” behavior, suppress negative feelings, be submissive, or accept blame. Internalized negative emotions can result in depression and anxiety disorders.
ADHD in women can also lead to other chronic, co-existing conditions, such as sleep deprivation, over-eating, and exhaustion, as a result of the struggle to stay organized and manage parental and professional responsibilities.
Getting Support for ADHD
Women with ADHD are at high risk for divorce and single parenthood. Raising children alone is difficult under the best of circumstances, but can prove overwhelming for ADHD women. This is especially true because ADHD runs in families, which means women with ADHD are more likely to have children with the disorder.
Even in a two-parent household, women are often expected to do the majority of child rearing and household management, while working part- or full-time. Juggling these responsibilities—and shouldering the guilt of failing to meet them—requires more support than medication or individual counseling alone can provide.
Female support groups for ADHD sufferers offer valuable tools for coping, self-acceptance, and confidence-building. Such groups offer comfort and reassurance through the knowledge that you are not alone in your daily struggles. Support groups are also sources of information on ADHD life-management skills for parenting, relationships, organization, meal planning, and stress reduction.
For a list of support groups for ADHD women by state, see the National Center for Gender Issues and AD/HD’s list here: http://www.ncgiadd.org/members/support_grp.cfm
Telling Your Family and Friends
Successful ADHD management also requires women to educate their families and friends about the condition to help cultivate the strong support systems they need. With inadequate information, it can be difficult for spouses and others to comprehend “why she can’t just get it together”—an attitude that can foster resentment and anger.
Communicate with your spouse about your condition and tell them how best to help you. Consider doing the tasks you find tedious or difficult to complete, such as household chores, with someone who shares similar limitations. You can bond and keep each other on task while getting things done.
Distance yourself from people in your life whose negativity and criticism undermine your efforts and well-being. Don’t spend time with people who make you feel terrible by comparison, such as those whose homes are always immaculate or those who make six-figure salaries. Instead, cultivate relationships with people who appreciate and support you.
Organize Your Home
Set up your home life to be “ADHD-friendly.” Strive to make your home as low-maintenance as possible. Get rid of any furnishings or other possessions that require extra care, and delegate responsibilities for chores and pet care whenever possible.
Establish stability and structure around meals, homework, chores, and family playtime. Strategize with family members about how each of them might contribute to a more organized, stress-free environment. You may also consider enlisting the services of a professional organizer or ADHD life coach.
Take Care of Yourself
Vigilant self-care may be the most important thing that a woman with ADHD can do for herself and her family. Eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise to minimize mood swings. Getting adequate rest to calm the mind and rejuvenate the body are important complements to medicinal and therapeutic treatments for ADHD.
Give yourself a break! Don’t stress out about the little things in life, such as a broken toy or missed appointment at the salon. And don’t place unrealistic demands on yourself or push yourself so far that you burn out. Establish periodic breaks, such as hiring a babysitter once a week, and make time to do the things you enjoy most.