What does it mean for a woman to have Attention Deficit with or without hyperactivity (ADHD)?

Much public talk around ADHD centers on the hyperactivity part, but the hyperactivity is the lesser of the two problems. Early research focused on the disruptive behavior in school so early statistical evaluations concluded that boys were more often affected than girls.

More recent research has focused on the attention problems, and now doctors know that girls and women are more often affected by the attention deficit problem. Furthermore girls, even when hyperactive, don't present the same public symptoms as boys.

How do girls differ from boys?

Girls with attention deficit with or without hyperactivity tend to fit into one of four profiles, none of which rivals the boys in their noisy, disruptive behavior.

* Julia likes to play with her brothers, climb trees, and run about, but at home she is generally calm and likes to please her Daddy. People call her a "tom boy". She tries hard, though she is messy and often incomplete, and her mediocre school results are accepted as the best effort she is capable of.

* Donna sits at the back of the class room and is often staring out the window, but when her teacher calls on her she smiles sweetly and makes a big effort to do as she is told. At other times she appears to be paying attention, but in reality she is quite lost. She works more slowly than others in her class and usually fails to finish work assigned. But because she is cooperative and sweet, no one suspects that she has a problem. She is just naturally "dreamy" or "spacey".

* Susan talks and talks and giggles, often thinking about the next recreation or a weekend party. When she tries to relate a happening, she tends to be very disorganized, jumping about from the beginning to the end and back again. She is fun to be with because she bubbles with enthusiasm and ideas, but gets extremely upset when anyone disagrees with her. She is hyper-talkative and hyper-emotional and may act "silly" to disguise her disorganization and forgetfulness. As she gets older her hyperactivity may lead her into risky experimenting with cigarettes, drugs or sexual adventure to compensate for her poor school performance.

* Deborah did very well in school even obtaining a PhD and an excellent job. Although she had worked very hard to achieve her academic success, much harder than her peers, her attention problems did not really become evident until she married and had children. Then the sheer complexity of life with work, husband and children led to a severe depression.

Hyperactive boys are likely to get the support they need because they are disruptive, while girls are mostly better behaved so they do not attract attention. The attention they do get is less likely to focus on the attention problem then on the character problem: Julia is not lady like, Susan is a social butterfly not an academic, Donna is just a bit slow, and Deborah has a touch of the baby blues. ADHD is rarely considered.

What happens when girls grow up?

Many children with problems of attention grow up to be adults with problems of attention. The symptoms you might see in adults include disorganization, emotional reactivity, under-achievement, low self-esteem, impaired relationships, or depression; of these disorganization ranks as the most pervasive.

Disorganization can take on mythic proportions. Disorganization means overflowing cupboards, piles of stuff with baby piles, missed meetings, chronic lateness, befuddled thinking all related to an erratic attention system. One woman reports having so many things to do and not knowing where to start she just sits down.

In addition, there is the frustration and shame of finding so difficult what others do so easily, the feeling of abandonment as colleagues and friends move on with their lives while you seem to be trapped like Sisyphus forever organizing papers which instantly disorganize. The others stop asking what are you doing these days? Because the answer is always the same "organizing".

Job Description : Wife, Mother

Women with ADHD are doubly handicapped by the social expectations put on them in their feminine roles as wife and mother, roles which require a high degree of organization.

For a moment, consider what attention deficit means. You are familiar with dimmers, these gizmos which allow you to adjust the brightness of a lamp: low and sultry for an evenings cuddle but high for a serious work session. Brains need an electric current to function just like your lamp. In ADD brains, poor use of dopamine in the synapse acts like a dimmer. ADD brains are effectively operating with insufficient current, so they need stimulation to turn up the power. Novelty and risk are ways ADD people can wake up.

Back to our house wife who is faced everyday with the same thousand things to do, the same dishes to put in the dish washer, take out of the dish washer; the same dirty socks to collect, wash , pair up to put away, the same shirts to iron, etc. It's all boring. Then there are the children to clothe, feed, get out the door, take to the doctor or the tennis lesson, social engagements to organize.

There's that word again: "organize". Deciding what to do first or which is most important or remembering to pick up the dry cleaning requires an active brain, but the ADD brain is functioning with the dimmer on minimum. Susan who escaped school as fast as possbile felt equally a failure as a housewife.

At work, life may or may not be more congenial. If a woman like Deborah, with a PhD, has a job which challenges her abilities and builds on her interest, she may thrive. On the other hand, women like Julia or Donna who have difficulty in school are more likely to find low level jobs which, like house work, demand the very skills they lack: filing, typing neatly without errors, or remembering customers orders in a restaurant.

The work place often requires a great deal of socializing which may be difficult for someone like Donna who lives in her own world or even Susan the socialite who tends to be emotive or Julia with her "Tom boy" style who may find herself shunned by both men and women. And Deborah may be "too" intelligent.

What Next? Turning up the dimmer.

For anyone, men and women, with Attention Deficit, knowledge is the first step to change. Learn what turns the lights up in your brain. What interests you? Make room in your life for activities which work for you. Have some fun.

Learn to ask for help. The Web has lots of information about ADHD some of it good, some not so good. Once you know that the problem exists, you can start looking.

Happy hunting.

Author's Bio: 

Sarah Jane Keyser is an ADHD coach with an international practice who helps adults and adolescents find joy and fulfillment with ADHD. For more about ADHD and coaching or to sign up for her free newsletter Zebra Stripes for ADHD, please see her web site www.CoachingKeytoADD.com.

Sarah Jane Keyser, ADD coach for adults of all ages with an international practice helping you to find joy and fulfillment with ADHD. Learn more about ADHD at www.CoachingKeytoADD.com or sign up for Zebra Stripes, a free E-zine for ADHD at Zebra Stripes for ADHD