The Overlooked Experience: Women with Attention Deficit Disorder
October is Attention Deficit Disorder Awareness month. While people generally view ADD as a male condition, women are just as likely to have ADD. Because ADD manifests differently in girls, women are often misdiagnosed or their symptoms are overlooked. One of the main issues we fail to address regarding ADD is the unique way it affects women and girls.
For years, misconceptions surrounding ADD have caused males to be diagnosed at much higher rates than women. Only recently have women begun to be diagnosed with ADD at almost equal rates.
While ADD symptoms can appear in either gender, there are specific traits that appear disproportionately in one gender over the other. As children, boys appear more hyperactive and impulsive whereas girls have a stronger propensity to daydream. The assumption that all children with ADD are hyperactive and impulsive leads to many young girls being misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all.
The propensity to day-dream in women with ADD causes many of them to become introverted and shy. The type of inattentiveness presented in females with the disorder can make listening to others in a social situation more difficult. This can become an added challenge for females with ADD because relational bonds are more emphasized in females than in males.
Females with ADD also face organizational challenges, which goes against the gender stereotype that girls should be neater and more orderly. Strict ideas surrounding what it means to be a woman have caused those with ADD to be harder on themselves since their disorder may prevent them from living up to a specific standard of femininity.
Furthermore, women with ADD commonly experience more psychological distress than their male counterparts. This experience is the result of the fact that females in general have lower self-esteem than males, which is further exacerbated by ADD. Since ADD is commonly seen as a male experience, women are left behind when addressing self-esteem issues that intersect with ADD.
One common myth that affects both women and men with ADD is that the disorder is a learning disability. The symptoms of ADD may make learning difficult, but the condition is not classified as a learning disability. It is true that people with ADD have difficulty focusing, but if a person with ADD is interested in something, their minds allow them to focus intensely on a subject through a process called “hyperfocus.” This intense focus has allowed many people with ADD to acquire a deep and nuanced understanding of certain subjects.
Some famous women who thrive with ADD are actress Emma Watson, Olympic Gold Medalist Simone Biles, and Award Winning Journalist Lisa Ling.
Ling attributes her success as a journalist to ADD. She said in an interview with the Oprah Winfrey Network, “I have always had a bit of a difficult time focusing on things that aren’t interesting to me. When I’m immersed in a story, then I feel I can laser focus, but if I’m not working, my mind goes in every direction but where it’s supposed to go, and I’ve been like that ever since I was a kid.”
Increased awareness surrounding gendered research will both help women combat the negative symptoms of ADD and embrace the gifts that autism spectrum disorders like ADD have to offer. After all, Neurodiversity cannot truly be realized if we assume autism spectrum disorders are exclusively a male experience.