According to Sari Solden, in her book "Women with Attention Deficit Disorder", “Almost all women find that life today is complex, upsetting or frustrating, but they are still able to meet most of [life’s] demands reasonably well…For women with untreated Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), however, the demands of daily life can be crippling. It cripples their self-esteem, their families, their lives, their work, and their relationships.”
ADD, also known as Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), affects between three and five percent of the population. However, adult ADD, especially as it appears in women, often goes unrecognized.
Symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder
The symptoms of ADD are varied. Some are more commonly seen in women and opposite the more recognized symptoms, making detection unlikely and diagnosis difficult. Each person’s experience is unique. While there is a multitude of characteristics, most women with the disorder don’t have every symptom. Instead, each woman has a mixture severe enough to impair some areas of life.
Mental vs. physical disorganization: For women struggling with this disorder, disorganization is common and often a serious problem. They may be unable to organize their homes, offices, or lives. To outsiders, this disorganization is not always visible. Women who lead professional lives may have assistants, secretaries, and cleaning services to assist them. Some may have a partner who compensates for their organizational dysfunction. Those without such assistance may have such clutter and disarray that others wonder how she manages.
Other women with ADD may find clutter and disorganization an incredible distraction. These distractions, coupled with the responsibilities of everyday life, lead to mental disorganization as the scattered brain struggles to store, weed out, and organize in a logical fashion. For these women, being tidy and organized equals survival. This trait, when coupled with difficulty shifting attention, may lead to over organizing to the point it engulfs one's life.
Hyperactivity vs. hypoactivity: Women with ADD can be at either end of the spectrum, either hyperactive or hypoactive (underactive). Hyperactive women may go at full speed until they crash from the overload. Family life can also suffer with a hyperactive mother. She may be unable to sit and play games or read to her children unless she finds the activities stimulating. If a hyperactive mom does manage to sit for an activity, she may fidget or feel anxious.
Many women with ADD are at the other extreme. They’re hypoactive, unable to muster the energy to do much of anything. These women are often unable to keep up with life’s many demands such as maintaining a home, participating in family activities, staying in touch with friends, even holding down a job. This symptom is often perceived as laziness by outsiders and even family who may not understand. This misperception creates problems for the hypoactive woman and affects her self-esteem.
Inattention vs. hyper-focusing: Women with ADD struggle with the inability to regulate attention. This doesn’t mean they can never maintain attention. The ability to focus for most with ADD is based on interest and whether the activity is stimulating. Many women daydreamed through school. Yet the subjects or activities they found fun and interesting didn’t pose such a problem. Adult life may be the same.
Hyper focusing, the opposite of inattention, also poses problems and can coexist with symptoms of inattention. While it may be difficult to focus on some things, a woman may hyperfocus on that which interests her and be unable to shift. Hyper focusing can last for hours, days, and longer and makes it difficult to break for important matters. Meals are forgotten. Family members may carry on conversations and not be heard. Hyper focusing puts a strain on the family. If a hyperfocused woman does manage to pull away, she may wander aimlessly and forget what she is doing.
Impatience and impulsivity: Standing in lines, sitting in waiting rooms, and being placed on hold for lengthy waits drive some women with ADD to the brink, so they may avoid these situations altogether. These women may be impatient either visibly or internally or act impulsively. Minor nuisances can cause major agitation. Other women with this disorder are able to maintain their composure yet still feel anxious and annoyed.
Women with ADD may also be impatient about life and events. She may plan her whole education or life in one day and need for it to happen immediately. She goes into things full swing rather than step-by-step. This can result in a change of heart after much investment or feeling spread too thin with too many goals to achieve.
Impulsiveness is seen when women with the disorder act or speak without thinking. This often leads to trouble by spending impulsively or jumping into relationships and even marriage. Some struggle socially and interrupt conversations or blurt things out they later regret.
Mood swings: Being overemotional, or easily frustrated is another problem. For some women, having ADD is like being on an emotional roller coaster. Extreme shifts in mood sometimes lead to a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder, though the two can coexist.
Women with ADD are frustrated by the slightest aggravations. A simple mistake seems a major ordeal and may result in anger, storming off, and dropping a task altogether. If interrupted in the midst of something, a woman may become irritable and annoyed.
Depression, although not a symptom of ADD, often coexists or is a result of the debilitating disorder. Depression in the ADD woman may stem from a lack of self-worth because she is unable to hold down a job or adequately care for her family. It may result from not achieving up to her potential because of attention problems in school or an inability to stick with anything. It also sometimes comes from feeling overwhelmed, a feeling that can dominate the life of a woman with this disorder.
Causes of Attention Deficit Disorder
Research indicates that ADD is a neurobiological disorder with a strong genetic link. According to the nonprofit organization Children and Adults with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), complications during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, exposure to nicotine or alcohol during fetal development, or a number of other environmental factors may also play a role in the development of ADD.
Misdiagnosis: Studies show the incidence of ADD in men and women is nearly identical, says Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D., co-author of "Understanding Women with AD/HD".The most common reasons that women with ADD don’t receive the diagnosis, she explains, include the following:
- Their doctor diagnoses the depression that often accompanies ADD, but misses the ADD itself. Women, more often than men, have coexisting anxiety and depression that must be treated as well
- Women who are more hyperactive, hyper talkative, and impulsive may be misdiagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.
- Many doctors still look for ADD signs typical of boys and don’t understand that ADD symptoms in females may not appear until puberty or later due to hormonal fluctuations. When girls enter puberty, during PMS, and as estrogen levels drop in perimenopause and menopause, the symptoms of ADD often worsen.
- Girls tend to try harder in school, so their ADD patterns are masked or overlooked by teachers.
Several treatments are available for ADD. The most effective is a prescription medication. A multitude of stimulant and non-stimulant medications are available.
Behavioral therapy is also beneficial both for coming to terms with the lifelong disorder and to relieve negative coping behaviors. Coaching is useful for learning new skills and strategies for structuring life. Because ADD is neurobiological, therapy and coaching work best in conjunction with medication.
Several ineffective treatments are being marketed as well. Treatments that are suspect, according to CHADD, include dietary plans such as the Feingold Diet, vitamin and mineral supplements, anti-motion-sickness medication, Candida yeast, EEG Biofeedback, Applied Kinesiology also known as Neural Organization Technique, and Optometric Vision Training, to name a few. Often, excessive claims are made about these treatments, citing a few favorable responses or studies that don’t hold up to scrutiny.
Where to find help
An accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment is important to reduce symptoms so finding a qualified provider is essential.
Before seeking a diagnosis, read recommended books for a better understanding of the disorder and the diagnosis and treatment process. Women with ADD are often misdiagnosed or the severity of their complaints is dismissed. Having a better understanding of the disorder will help in finding a qualified, knowledgeable provider.
Before spending much time in the diagnosis and treatment process, compile a list of questions to ask the provider to ensure he or she has a clear understanding of the disorder and appropriate treatments. If you don’t feel comfortable with a physician’s responses, seek help elsewhere.
Symptoms of add – some of the symptoms commonly seen in women, partially taken from "Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults: A Different Way of Thinking" by Dr. Lynn Weiss, are as follows:
- Difficulty completing tasks or following through on plans
- Difficulty shifting attention
- Excessively shifting from one activity to another
- Difficulty concentrating on reading
- Frequent preoccupation in thoughts and not hearing when spoken to
- Difficulty sitting still or excessive fidgeting
- Sudden and unexpected mood swings
- Interrupting in conversations, speaking without considering consequences
- Hot tempered
- Need for high stimulus
- Low tolerance for frustration
- A tendency toward substance abuse
Editor’s note: Story was written by Kimberly Blaker and originally published in the February/March 2019 issue of the On The Minds of Moms magazine. Forum Communications Company is re-publishing these stories as On the Minds of Moms staff members develop a new online community.
Kimberly Blaker is a freelance writer and the author of a kid's STEM book, "Horoscopes: Reality or Trickery?" containing fun experiments to help kids understand the scientific method and develop critical thinking skills.