ADHD Is for Women, Too

Children aren’t the only ones who wrestle with attention deficit disorder, and men aren’t the only ones who are hyperactive. A guide for women with ADHD.

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Fighting the Stigma

Because the medical field is just beginning to recognize adult ADHD, the condition is rife with stigma and stereotypes. My response? I resolved to become an ADHD crusader, and I made my first public confession at my local pet-food store.

When the store owner asked if I wanted to apply for a frequent-buyer card, I said, “Sure, why not?” Rifling through her records, she discovered that I already had not one, but two, cards. I laughed. “There’s a reason for that,” I said. “I have ADHD!” Poor memory — not to mention a cluttered wallet and purse — can be an ADHD symptom.

Her face dropped. I could have sworn she backed away. Then, in hushed tones, she confided that doctors had told her that her son had it, too. But, she said, “I knew he didn’t, because he’s highly intelligent.”

She might as well have taken a 10-pound bag of dog food and smashed me in the face with it. Stereotype confirmed. Fact: ADHD has nothing to do with lack of intelligence.

The Canadian Mental Health Association’s website (where else would you go for information about a mental health issue? I naively thought) wasn’t any better informed. ADHD is mentioned, but only in reference to children.

“That’s a big oversight,” says Lily Hechtman, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at McGill University in Montreal, and coauthor of Hyperactive Children Grown Up. Hechtman explains that the medical profession is beginning to realize that, not only can many symptoms continue into adulthood, they can cause significant difficulties. Yet, she says, the reality is “all the medical students at McGill get one lecture on ADHD, only part of which is on adult ADHD.” In Canadian medical school, adult ADHD is mentioned briefly, unless one is specializing in child psychiatry. This is why a child psychiatrist, not a general practitioner, may be the best person to diagnose an adult.

Finding Help

Consequently, women like Difede are left to seek out the rare psychiatrist who can diagnose them (as she did) by attending conferences on ADHD, finding a coach, or finding or starting their own support group.

Many women may cruise along until, as in my case, things start to fall apart. According to Quily and others, the unraveling often coincides with marriage and having kids. Suddenly, Quily explains, “You have to organize not just yourself, but the kids, too.” These added responsibilities can push an ADHD mom’s stress-o-meter over the top.

As if that’s not enough, chances are that the kids have the condition as well (some estimates suggest that up to 80 percent of ADHD is inherited), giving Mom an even greater challenge, as she’ll have to organize both herself and her kids.

Next: You and Your ADHD

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