How to Diagnose ADHD in Women
While a diagnosis of ADHD does not differ based on gender, sometimes symptoms of ADHD may be expressed differently in men and women. Women generally do not get a diagnosis of ADHD until adulthood, often shortly after one of their children receives a diagnosis.Even though much of the understanding about ADHD is on school-age boys, more information is becoming available about adults with ADHD and women with ADHD. If you think you may have symptoms of ADHD, make an appointment with a mental health provider to discuss a diagnosis and ways to move forward in treatment.
Identifying Symptoms of ADHD
Learn about an ADHD diagnosis.Only a qualified professional can give you a formal diagnosis of ADHD. You may meet with a provider to discuss your symptoms, how they affect you, and how long your symptoms have interfered with your life. You may fill out some questionnaires and/or be asked questions about your childhood and mental health history. You may receive a medical exam and rule out certain medical diagnoses.
- There are three types of ADHD diagnoses: predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, predominantly inattentive, and combined type.
- Women generally present as predominantly inattentive.
Observe symptoms of inattention.Females generally have more symptoms of inattention and less hyperactivity than males.A mental health provider may diagnose you with ADHD if you have six or symptoms of inattention for more than six months. Some examples of inattentive symptoms include:
- Making careless mistakes on schoolwork or tasks; not paying close attention to details.
- Difficulty holding attention on tasks or activities.
- Difficulty listening even when spoken to directly.
- Difficulty following through on tasks such as schoolwork or projects; being easily sidetracked.
- Problems with organization and planning.
- Avoiding or disliking activities which require sustained attention.
- Losing important things frequently (keys, pens/pencils, books, wallet, glasses, cellphone).
- Being easily distracted.
- Forgetting things regularly.
- Problems with executive function including the following: working memory, task shifting, self-monitoring, and self-inhibition.
- Emotional dysregulation, or problems with mood and irritability.
Identify symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity.Generally, women do not receive a diagnosis of ADHD due to the fact that many women are not hyperactive and many people see hyperactivity as the guiding light toward an ADHD diagnosis.However, some women do experience hyperactivity and impulsivity. Your mental health practitioner may ask you about symptoms of hyperactivity and how long these symptoms have affected you. A diagnosis of ADHD (predominantly hyperactive-impulsive) will include six or more of the following symptoms for at least six months:
- Frequently fidgeting, tapping feet, or squirming.
- Leaving your seat often when remaining seated is expected.
- Feeling restless or “on the go.”
- Difficulty doing quiet activities.
- Excessively talking.
- Interrupting others.
- Difficulty waiting your turn.
- Premature termination of relationships.
- Quitting a job without other options.
Notice the effect of symptoms.To obtain a diagnosis of ADHD, your symptoms must interfere with your life and cause you distress. While many people lose things or are easily forgetful, your symptoms create problems at school, work, home, and/or in relationships.
- Your treating professional may ask about your symptoms occurring when you were a child under the age of 12. A diagnosis of ADHD includes identifying symptoms of inattention and impulsivity/hyperactivity before the age of 12 that affect your behavior in multiple settings, such as home, school, and in social situations.
Considering Mental and Emotional Health
Note feeling overwhelmed.Women with ADHD may feel constantly overwhelmed, which can lead to relational problems at home. For example, women in more traditional roles at home may feel responsible for organizing family schedules, planning events, remembering important dates, paying bills, and being the primary parent. These can be difficult tasks for a woman with ADHD and can lead to feeling overwhelmed and incapable.
- You might find that household responsibilities are difficult to maintain and you cannot seem to get on top of them no matter how hard you try.
- Finishing tasks may be difficult and feel overwhelming. This might include work tasks or hobbies.
Notice emotional disturbances.Women with ADHD tend to have comorbid conditions such as anxiety, depression, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and intermittent explosive disorder. You might have a low self-image or poor coping strategies when you feel stressed.Anxiety and depression may interact with ADHD or result from not dealing with symptoms of ADHD. This may be why antianxiety or antidepressant medications may not be effective.
- You might struggle to cope with stress in an effective way, which can become destructive.
- You might perceive yourself as less capable, less achieving, and with more problems.
Consider previous mental health diagnoses.Women are more likely to receive a diagnosis for anxiety or depression before obtaining a diagnosis of ADHD. Because many school teachers and even medical professionals see ADHD as a boys’ disorder, women more often get diagnosed with other disorders first. For example, most diagnoses are made in childhood and picked up by schools. Yet, girls tend to fly under the radar at school in terms of inattention or hyperactivity.
- If you’ve been diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety yet treatment hasn’t relieved your symptoms, you may want to see a mental health professional about an ADHD diagnosis.
Recognize risk-taking behaviors.While you may be able to manage your ADHD during primary and secondary school, you might begin to notice more pronounced problems in university. For example, you may have problems completing tasks or managing your schedule. In university, you may be more risk-taking than other women around you, perhaps getting into recreational drugs or going through with crazy ideas or schemes.
- Impulsivity can also lead to traffic tickets, driving errors, and speeding.
Examine your response to difficult situations.Women with ADHD tend to develop a response style of learned helplessness, meaning they don’t feel in control of the outcome of events and don’t feel powerful enough to change a negative outcome.If you think that things will end badly or that you cannot change things, you may be unwilling to fully engage in projects or challenging tasks.
- Once you reach a challenge, you may be more inclined to give up instead of persevere in overcoming it.
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