In my post, Best Buds for a Chick-A-D-D – Choose Wisely!, I talked about my experiences with making and keeping friends, and the challenges I had. While many, or perhaps even most, of my issues might be shared by both genders, one of my readers commented that,
“I don’t know why people insist that there is such a divergence between the sexes when it is all really an illusion.”
I was born from my mummy’s tummy (no, you would be digested, not born, in your mom’s tum) and other fairytales…
Gender differences all an illusion? I think not. And I have a uterus, ovaries, hormones, and differing socio-cultural experiences to prove it. Today’s post will be a close encounter with reality, so fasten your seatbelts and take notes…you are going to learn about your ADD sisters.
Being a woman ipso facto means differing experience
This comment begs the question of how the experience of ADHD differs in men and women. While there certainly is shared terrain, I’ll explain how being a woman ipso facto entails, or can entail, a different experience of ADHD.
To wit: until you, too, experience the hormonal changes that women do in relation to all stages and aspects of their menses, including PMS (pre-menstural syndrome), menopause, etc., and until you’ve had a hysterectomy and the subsequent hormonal changes suddenly experienced by that, until you’ve been pregnant and experienced your level of hCG (human preganancy hormone) change, until you’ve taken HRT (hormone replacement therapy) and combined any of the above with the rest of your physiological ADHD symptoms, plus your ADHD medications, I don’t think we can accurately say that divergence between the sexes is illusory.
Hormonal differences in ADHDers
PMS, ADHD & Me
I was blessed with an exceptionally rabid case of PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome), especially throughout my teen years. Add to that the impulsive blurting, scatter-brained nature of ADHD, and it made for one helluva ride for my poor family.
Menopause or ADHD? Only her psychiatrist knows for sure…
Tell a woman who can’t tell whether her memory loss, increased fogginess, or dysthymia is due to menopause or ADHD symptoms, that her experience of ADHD is no different than a man’s, and, well…don’t.
And hormonal fluctuations are just one difference.
Socio-cultural differences in the experiences of male and female ADHDers
Socio-culturally, North American society is still patriarchal. Like it or not, we continue, for the most part, to expect women to be the primary caregivers of children, and the primary household managers. While I hasten to say that there are umpteen exceptions to the rule, it nonetheless exists, to a greater or lesser degree, in our culture. Its impact on women and their ADHD symptoms can be profound.
Barefoot, pregnant, and in a cluttered ADHD kitchen
According to both male and female researchers and experts in the field (Pete Quily, ADD coach; Dr. Kenny Handelman, PhD. in Psychiatry; Dr. Lily Hechtman, Researcher, all of whom I’ve personally interviewed on the topic of women and ADHD, and many others), women with ADHD can experience an elevation of symptoms when they get married. Within the social framework I’ve described, this makes sense. With increasing demands on their organizational skills (or lack thereof), a woman who is already struggling with organization, transitions, memory, communication skills, and so on (as most ADHDers do), adding marriage and/or childrearing to the equation can tip the scale into crisis mode. On the bright side, this crisis level often causes women to seek help and finally receive a diagnosis and treatment of their ADHD.
Differences, similarities and crossing over
There are lots of exceptions to every rule. Just as we all have “masculine” and “feminine” traits in varying degrees, making us each unique and individual, so too do we have our own combination of ADHD symptoms, not always related to gender.
For example, I break the norm as a woman with a high amount of hyperactivity. The majority of information refers to women as lacking in this trait. While it may be true that I am an anomaly, it’s just another example, like gender identification, of how we’re all on a spectrum. I just happen to fall at the far end of the hyperactivity scale. Apparently only about 10% of women have the hyperactivity component.
What’s important is that we learn as much as we can about the similarities, and differences, in how ADHD symptoms manifest in men and women. It’s important for men and women to know. Men need to know because they are married to women with ADHD, have female ADD friends, raise ADD daughters, and work with women ADHDers. Women need to know how their different physiology affects their ADHD symptoms so that they can get the best treatment possible.
We need to know about the differences so that we can provide effective strategies and treatment for everyone – man,woman or child, and so that we can be more compassionate towards each other and kind to those dealing with ADHD-related challenges.
For more information about women and ADHD, read:
MORE Magazine, ADHD for Adults, Finally, a guide for grown-ups: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, by Zoe Kessler
ADDitude Magazine, My ADHD Story: Maria Von Trapp and Me, by Zoe Kessler
Women with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, by Sari Solden
You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!, by Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo
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Last reviewed: 17 Feb 2012