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

goes unrecognized.

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

Bipolar Disorder.

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

often worsen.

Girls tend to try harder in school, so their ADD patterns are masked or overlooked

by teachers.

Treatment Options

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

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, 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

elsewhere. ■

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

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03 Jun 2016

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