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Not just hyper boys: Why girls and women with ADHD go undiagnosed

Scrabble pieces spelling out "ADHD"
Women are less likely to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) compared to men. When they are, the disagnosis tends to come later in life.

The stereotypical picture of someone with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) tends to be a young hyperactive boy, who just can’t sit still in class. But that picture doesn't tell the whole story.

There is increasing evidence that girls with the disorder are underdiagnosed. And while the symptoms might change over time, ADHD doesn’t just disappear when you reach adulthood. So what does that mean for adult women with the disorder?

Sari Soldenis an Ann Arbor-based therapist, who has authored books on women with ADHD. Solden has also been diagnosed with ADHD herself.

ADHD affects the complex wiring that manages the executive functions of the brain. Solden says that in boys and men, behavior connected to ADHD is more likely to be disruptive, making it hard for teachers and parents to ignore. Women and girls, on the other hand, more often have symptoms that line up with the “inattentive” subtype of ADHD, and tend to be better at masking their struggles in school. 

“They don’t fit a stereotype of the hyperactive little boys that we still have. They don’t cause problems. Often, they’re actually often people-pleasers, sometimes internalizing their problems, feeling anxious and depressed, but actually working hard, and teachers often like to have them in the classrooms,” Solden explained.

Women with ADHD might have trouble prioritizing tasks, coordinating with others, and “activating” themselves, all of which can make it difficult for them “to lead an organized, routine life.” Solden says women who go without a diagnosis for years often feel a deep sense of shame about their struggle to keep up their peers.    

Listen to Stateside’s conversation with Sari Solden to hear the story behind her own ADHD diagnosis, the emotional toll that the disorder can have on women, and her message to women who believe that they may have the disorder.

Minding Michigan is Stateside’s ongoing series that examines mental health in our state. 

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