Myth Or Fact: ADHD in Women

Short attention spans, restlessness, impatience. These are things all of us regularly experience and while this trinity may seem perfectly normal to us (and it is, in small amounts), what happens when it interrupts our daily routines? It’s called inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity and is considered by many psychiatrists to be cardinal symptoms of a condition called Attention-Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD for short).

ADHD manifests itself uniquely in everyone, like other disorders. Broadly grouped, ADHD is of the hyperactive, inattentive, or combined type.

However, the image of ADHD seared into our brains is of a hyperactive giggling boy bouncing all over the place. So, the inattentive type, which is more likely to affect females, often goes ignored. 

As a kid, almost everyone I met called me hyperactive. “Can’t she sit still? Does she always jump around? It’s nice that your daughter is energetic, but you know she’s not a boy, right?” were questions that my mom heard regularly. Teachers told my dad that I probably had ADHD and that I should see someone for an official diagnosis. My parents would have taken me to a specialist, and matters probably would have been resolved, but unfortunately, they went through the family physician, who laughed at our faces and told us that girls just didn’t get ADHD.

After that, I was a lost cause to everyone, even my parents.

You see, women are expected, conventionally, to fulfill the role of caregiver, be selfless, meek, organized, and most importantly, they are expected to be people-pleasers. Women with ADHD often fall short of these standards and are criticized for their perceived character unconformities instead of receiving medical help.

Every girl who displays the typical hyperactivity and disruptive behaviors associated with the little boy is dismissed because they ‘want to be different.’

While males receive a diagnosis at the age of seven and are treated accordingly, women are often not diagnosed before adulthood and rarely before puberty. Due to the male behavior of acting out, contrasting the female habit of internalizing, women are more likely to be misdiagnosed with emotional psychiatric imbalance disorders, like depression or anxiety.

Women with ADHD seem overly emotional, both in their sensibilities and reactions. They tend to hyper-focus on things that interest them, unable to complete tasks, and poor time management skills to boot. They are more likely to be labeled ‘lazy,’ ‘stupid,’ or ‘unmotivated.’ The delayed diagnosis only causes secondary disorders of anxiety, eating, sleep, and mood disorders, which makes the process of an ADHD diagnosis harder than it needs to be. For years, I, too, believed that ADHD was just an excuse for my ‘character flaws,’ and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t change, despite desperately wanting to.


This doesn’t mean that a woman with ADHD needs to suffer all her life. Increasing awareness and a shift of understanding from the predominantly male-type model to a more gender-neutral model has made it relatively easier for women to get the help they need. Several studies have shown that treatment of ADHD in women can resolve the secondary issues they face and that psychiatrists specializing in learning disorders are best suited to diagnose.


Written by Maha Padala for MTTN 

Edited by Andrea Xavier Gonsalves for MTTN

Featured image by 

Artwork by Mary Grace Heartlein for MTTN



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