ADD Women: Why Girls and Moms Go Undiagnosed

ADHD is not a male disorder. But misconceptions and missed signs mean that ADD women often get misdiagnosed. Here's expert information about attention deficit symptoms in women.

Boxed In by ADD, Part 3

Financial costs and missed opportunities

As if emotional problems weren't enough, ADD also brings significant financial costs.

"You're constantly paying for your disorganization and forgetfulness," says Nadeau. "You're losing your glasses, so you have to buy a new pair. You get a parking ticket because you lost track of time and the meter ran out. Things like that are constantly happening in the life of someone with ADD."

Lyle Hawkins, a 59-year-old mother of three, long suspected that she had ADD, but didn't get diagnosed or treated until age 40. She regrets all those years of being misperceived as lazy and careless. But most of all, she laments lost opportunities. Hawkins married right out of high school, but would have gone to college instead if she had gotten help by then.

"I was from a very educated family, where education was really important," says Hawkins, a patient of Dr. Reimherr's, who is also from Sandy, Utah. "But college would have been too stressful. When you have attention deficit, everybody's on page 10 and you're on page three."

Hope for the future

The medical community is waking up to the fact that ADD is a big problem for girls and that the condition often persists into adulthood, says Nadeau. For now, she says, any woman who suspects she has ADD should educate herself about the condition—and consult a mental-health professional who specializes in the field.

To gauge a doctor's knowledge of how ADD affects women, Quinn recommends asking which books he's read on women with ADD, which relevant conferences he's attended, and how many female patients he has treated. She says a doctor's credentials matter less than his or her understanding of, and experience with, treating the disorder in women.

"Many women find that their general practitioner, if he treats ADD in older adolescents, can be helpful," Quinn says. "Usually a psychiatrist or a therapist is the best equipped to diagnose the disorder in women."

If a woman is feeling depressed, it makes sense for a doctor to diagnose her with depression and treat her for it. But if she has reason to believe that there is more to her problem (or if procrastination, time management problems, and forgetfulness persist, despite treatment for depression), it may also make sense to question the diagnosis—and to persist in questioning until she gets relief for her symptoms.

Should she switch doctors? Says Quinn, "She should switch if she is not being listened to, if her point of view is not being acknowledged or respected."

Even when the diagnosis comes late in life, women know how to use their new awareness to their advantage. Lyle Hawkins, the 59-year-old mother of three, recognized many of her ADD behaviors in her children. Not wanting them to go through the same thing, Hawkins made sure they got diagnosed—early. "If they had not had me for a mother," she says, "they would have fallen through the cracks."

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This article comes from the October/November issue of ADDitude.
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Were you misdiagnosed, or were warning signs overlooked before you found out you had ADHD? Share your story in the ADHD in Women support group on ADDConnect.

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