Women and ADD
Women and ADD
What You Need to Know About Attention Deficit Disorder
By Kimberly Blaker
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 selfesteem, their families, their lives,
their work and their relationships.”
ADD, also known as AttentionDeficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), affects between three and
five percent of the population. However, adult ADD, especially as it appears in women, often
Characteristics of ADD in women
The symptoms of ADD are many. 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 are 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 selfesteem.
Inattention vs. hyperfocusing
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
Hyperfocusing, 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. Hyperfocusing 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. Hyperfocusing 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 drives
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 stepbystep. 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 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.
The Cause of ADD
Research indicates that ADD is a neurobiological disorder with a strong genetic link. According
to the nonprofit organization Children and Adults with Attention DeficitHyperactivity 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.
Studies show the incidence of ADD in men and women are nearly identical, says Kathleen
Nadeau, Ph.D., coauthor 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
Women who are more hyperactive, hypertalkative, and impulsive may be misdiagnosed with
Many doctors still look for ADD signs typical of boys. 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
Girls tend to try harder in school, so their ADD patterns are masked or overlooked
Several treatments are available for ADD. The most effective is prescription medication. A
multitude of stimulant and nonstimulant 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
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, antimotionsickness 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 reducing symptoms, so finding
a qualified provider is essential.
Reading recommended books offer 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
Symptoms of ADD
Some of the symptoms commonly seen in women 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
Need for high stimulus
Low tolerance for frustration
Tendency toward substance abuse