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We all know that the gender gap is real – women are generally paid less than men for the same work, and face more barriers in making progress in life. But did you know that there is also a gender gap in the recognition and diagnosis of ADHD?
While this is changing, there is still some way to go before ADHD is recognised as readily in women as in men. This is important because many people with ADHD find a diagnosis life changing. For the first time they start to really understand and accept who they are and can connect with others with similar experiences. A diagnosis does not change who you are, but it does explain why you are that way. Most of all, a diagnosis can be a big step on the road to self-acceptance and can open the door to getting support when you need it.
The reasons why ADHD is underdiagnosed in women are many and varied, and include the fact that early research wrongly believed that it was an almost exclusively male condition. What is true and contributes to the gender gap is that ADHD often affects women in a different way to men, and that women may be better at masking – copying the behaviour of others around them to cover up their ADHD traits.
As the name suggests, two of the main aspects of ADHD are inattention and hyperactivity. While men with ADHD tend to err more towards hyperactive traits, women more often have the inattentive traits, such as finding it hard to focus or pay attention, stay organised, or remember important information. This in turn can lead to a form of cultural masking, where these aspects of a woman’s personality can be wrongly attributed by others to being a bit dizzy, spaced out or other derogatory classifications.
It is also essential to remember that every woman with ADHD is different, and is impacted in a different way. So while some may be inattentive and struggle with organisational skills, others may be fine in these areas but have sensory issues or may become overwhelmed in busy social situations. Women with ADHD may have trouble relaxing or switching off, and may be permanently exhausted, especially if they are only diagnosed later in life so may have been fighting to meet neurotypical expectations for many years with a brain that is simply wired differently.
Finally, ADHD in women is often accompanied by other conditions, such as anxiety, eating disorders, sleep problems or substance abuse. Much of this can be the result of living in a world that is just not designed for the way that your brain works. But a mix of conditions can also make identifying ADHD even harder.
The good news is that while it is termed a disorder, ADHD is not an illness and does not need to be cured. Women with ADHD are different, not deficient, and there are often strengths as well as challenges that arise from ADHD. There is lots of help available with managing ADHD traits that may be causing problems, from strategies and counselling to medication. There is also a worldwide community of neurodivergent people well practised in supporting each other.
A diagnosis of ADHD can be the beginning of real self-acceptance, and help you understand exactly who you are.
By Maria Karefilakis
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