Womxn with ADHD: Making Sense of a Late Diagnosis

Understand why womxn are frequently diagnosed later, and the healing strategies they can employ to thrive (not just survive).

Published on
November 1, 2023

The journey of ADHD in adult women is marked by unique challenges, misunderstood symptoms, and emotional intricacies. As the awareness of ADHD grows, an increasing number of womxn are receiving diagnoses later in life, unraveling years of misidentification and misconceptions.

In this article, we delve into why womxn are frequently diagnosed later, and the healing strategies they can employ to thrive (not just survive). Understanding them can help ease the guilt and confusion that can come from not fitting into society’s stereotypes.

Why Is ADHD in Women Diagnosed Later in Life?

1. ADHD and Gender Differences

The traditional image of ADHD—a hyperactive young boy—has overshadowed the more subtle, inattentive ADHD in womxn. While hyperactivity is more pronounced in boys, girls often exhibit quieter symptoms, like daydreaming or being lost in thought. This lack of overt disruptive behavior often means that ADHD symptoms in girls are unnoticed by teachers and parents alike.

2. The Complex Interplay of Hormones

ADHD and hormone fluctuations share a complex relationship. Estrogen, particularly, affects neurotransmitters that relate to ADHD symptoms. Drops in estrogen levels, such as during premenstrual phases or menopause, can exacerbate ADHD symptoms, but these are often misattributed to mood swings or other hormonal issues, shadowing the underlying ADHD.

3. Misdiagnoses and Overlapping Conditions

ADHD misdiagnosis in women often stems from emotional regulation challenges, which go unrecognized as ADHD symptoms. Instead, they are frequently assumed to stem from mood disorders, such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder. ADHD often co-exists with these conditions, further masking the root cause of symptoms.

4. Societal Expectations and Masking

Societal roles have conditioned womxn to compensate for or mask their ADHD symptoms. Women are more likely to develop coping mechanisms like perfectionism to stay organized or attentive. While these coping mechanisms are internally and emotionally taxing, they hide ADHD symptoms and might prevent them from seeking help. Societal stereotypes like the "emotional female temperament” also play a role.

5. Limited Awareness and Research

Historically, ADHD research has been male-centric. The understanding of how ADHD manifests in womxn remains limited, although this is changing. With increased awareness and more inclusive studies, the nuances of women's ADHD experiences are coming to light.

Real Womxn Share Late-Diagnosis Stories

Symptoms of ADHD in women are unique and varied. Understanding them can help ease the guilt and confusion that can come from not fitting into society’s stereotypes. Here are just a few experiences shared by women with late diagnoses.

“I’m a therapist and suspected that I had ADHD for about 20 years. At age 60, I tried to start a private practice, but I had a lot of difficulty because of the lack of structure. I decided then that it was time to seek a formal diagnosis.” - Anonymous womxn, Late Diagnosis Reflection (Source: ADDitude Magazine)

“I was diagnosed as a kid, but didn't really get any help for it until I was a grown up. To be fair to my folks, I don't think there was much available for an ADHD girl in small town Texas in the 90s besides medication, which my dad had had a bad reaction to so they didn't want to medicate me.” - Anonymous womxn, Late Diagnosis Reflection

“I'm AFAB, and generally female presenting, and it was incredibly difficult to find doctors who were even willing to consider that I could have ADHD. They were highly focused on my depression and anxiety, which were treatment resistant until someone finally diagnosed and treated my ADHD.” - Anonymous womxn, Late Diagnosis Reflection

“I masked so hard it warped my personality. I got good grades only because I was smart, not because I learned. Once I got to college I struggled so much. I wasn’t diagnosed until 14 years later after I had my first kid. Now it’s obvious- I was severe inattentive type but flew 100% under the radar.” - Anonymous womxn, Late Diagnosis Reflection

“The procrastination, money spending, inability to shut up, emotional mayhem, sleep disorder, eating disorders, depression. I really just thought I was a disappointment to all of humanity and worthless. Turns out I just really really really lack dopamine.” - Anonymous womxn, Late Diagnosis Reflection

Steps for ADHD Women To Heal From a Late Diagnosis

1. Acknowledgment and Self-compassion

The first step in healing is acknowledging the diagnosis. Understand that the years of feeling "different" weren't imagined. Give yourself the compassion you deserve, and recognize that your experiences are valid.

2. Seek Professional Guidance

After a late diagnosis, professional guidance is crucial. Therapists and counselors familiar with ADHD in adult women can provide insights, coping mechanisms, and ADHD therapy options tailored to individual needs. Revisiting past challenges with the knowledge of ADHD can be healing. It provides clarity and helps in letting go of self-blame.

3. Education and Awareness

Knowledge is power. Dive into resources, books, and seminars on ADHD. Organizations like ADDitude, CHADD, ADDA (among many) offer a wealth of information, including personal stories of women with ADHD, providing both knowledge and solace.

4. Join Support Groups

Connecting with others who've had similar experiences can be cathartic. Support groups, both online and offline, provide a safe space to share stories, challenges, and solutions. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few great ADHD support groups, forums, and online communities to check out:

CHADD Affiliates

ADDA Support Groups

The Mighty - ADHD

10 ADD/ADHD Blogs and Forums

r/ADHD on Reddit

How To ADHD on Facebook

Shimmer ADHD Coaching

5. Establish Personalized Coping Strategies

What works for one might not work for another. Find ADHD coping strategies for women that resonate with you, be it mindfulness practices, organizational tools, or time-management techniques. An ADHD coach can help you to identify and adapt coping skills to fit your unique life and needs.

6. Advocate for Yourself

Be your own advocate. Whether it's at work or in personal spaces, communicate your needs and challenges. This not only helps in finding support but also raises awareness.

While a late diagnosis brings its own set of challenges, it's also an opportunity—a chance to understand oneself better, to seek the right support, and to thrive. As we amplify the voices of women with ADHD, we hope to pave the way for a more inclusive and empathetic understanding of this condition, and reshape the stigma in our society.

Remember - every person’s journey looks different. The barriers and expectations faced by one individual may be either similar or differ to your own. What matters is that we come together and try to understand each person’s experience.

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