Many women with ADHD tell me that the world is full of loud noises, bright lights, and annoying sounds that others filter out easily. Life is chaotic and over-stimulating. Their acute sensitivities make it hard to stay focused and organized.
Meeting the daily demands of a household filled with children takes its toll on a woman with ADHD, as do workplace chatter and ringing telephones. Even a gentle stroke from a loving partner can feel painful, not pleasurable. Daily living is sometimes a hellish experience.
Anxious and Hypersensitive
"Things like ticking clocks, hissing radiators, or noisy heating units in hotels; someone clicking his pen in a library or kicking the back of your seat on an airplane, make sensitive ADHD women feel assaulted, attacked, or invaded. They get anxious," says Sari Solden, M.S., an ADHD expert, therapist, and the author of Women with Attention Deficit Disorder and Journeys Through ADDulthood. Many of her clients are bothered by sounds that others don't hear.
"I think that many women, and more girls, with ADHD have hypersensitivities," says Patricia Quinn, M.D., a developmental pediatrician and the author of several books on ADHD.
I counseled a woman with ADHD who had to make her bed before she turned in for the night. She smoothed out all the wrinkles on the sheets, which were painful to her skin. Some women cannot eat a meal with others because "mouth noises" drive them crazy.
Some women diagnosed with ADHD are also emotionally sensitive. This includes sensitivity to criticism, deep empathy toward others' feelings, and reacting to situations with quick temper out of left field, leaving others hurt and confused.
Researchers are now beginning to understand that many adults with ADHD have these hypersensitivities, or even Sensory Processing Disorder — a neurological condition that doesn't allow for normal processing of stimuli. We see this in children with ADHD, autism, and other disorders, but little is written about adults with SPD.
How do you know if you have SPD and not hypersensitivity? "If you are hypersensitive to the point where it interferes with your functioning, you have SPD," says Sharon Heller, Ph.D., author of Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World.
I have ADD myself, and I struggle with hypersensitivities. Over the years, I have found strategies for saving myself from stress and anxiety. I note my sensitivities and make the needed accommodations. I suggest restaurants on outings with friends, the ones that are quiet and comfortable. I cannot wear high heels, so I've emptied my closet of them. I wear a soft cotton T-shirt under blouses and sweaters to keep harsh fabrics from my skin.
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