50% to 75% of girls with ADHD are missed. This is an alarmingly high percentage, and unfortunately I was one of these unlucky girls. Often, when we try to imagine ADHD, we see a young boy, a little over-active bully that performs bad at school and can’t sit still. Unfortunately this is not the only visualization of ADHD, it is much more and comes in many different shapes that are often not recognized.
Lack of research
Most of the research on ADHD has been conducted solely on boys, or have included very few girls in the sample. As a result, most of what we know, most of the scientific literature, is almost exclusively based on male subjects. Luckily, over the last few years, more and more research is focussed on ADHD in girls and woman, however, the image of the little boy bouncing off the walls remains the standard for ADHD. And as a girl, you’re far less likely to fit into this image.
I was born in the 90’s, in this time ADHD wasn’t as known as it is today, definitely the girl’s version of this type of brain was mostly unknown. My mother did notice very early that I was different from other kids, and multiple time we visited a doctor, trying to figure out why I was different. Before I turned 12 I had multiple test for almost every learning disability that existed, but I always passed, I wan’t diagnosed with anything and the conclusion was always that there was nothing “wrong” with me, just an annoying kid that couldn’t listen.
But beneath what was visible for my teachers and doctors, there was something going on. Life was just different for me, it felt different compared to the way it felt for other kids, I felt more, more intensely and I just always felt like I did not fit in, that I was not as good or weird even. My strong emotions and interests where never accepted, and being me was never allowed. Even when I was very young, I started hiding parts from myself, trying to fit in, trying to be accepted.
According to the CDC, boys are far more likely to receive their ADHD diagnosis, not because girls are less likely to live with an ADHD devil inside their brains, but because a girl’s devil presents himself differently. Girls often present their symptoms more subtle, more introverted.
Girls with ADHD are not as hyperactive as boys, and this is why girls often don’t fit the picture represents this kind of brain. We don’t dance on a table in the middle of the classroom and we don’t blame the world around us for what we feel. We keep everything to ourselves, and slowly we start blaming ourselves for being different, for failing at the things that should be easy.
If I would have received one cent for every time I told myself how stupid I am, how much of a failure I am or how I don’t belong in this world, I would have been a billionaire by now, maybe even the richest person alive. But all this money would not make up for the way I feel about myself, for the low self-esteem and self-hate I have been developing because of my missed ADHD diagnosis.
Risks of being undiagnosed
Being a girl with ADHD is a dangerous combination. Not only because we often continue our lives without the help we need, our introvert way of dealing with our symptoms also makes us very hard to ourselves. We blame ourselves for the struggles we are confronted with every day, and years of blame have a big effect on us.
Studies confirm, that girls with ADHD turn their anger and pain inward, making them more likely to experience major depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Among girls and women with ADHD the rates of attempted suicide and self-harm are significantly higher. All of which could be prevented if the image of ADHD would change, and if we would receive the help we desperately need.
The harm it did to me
Even till today, I feel anger about all the adults that did not recognize the struggles I encountered ever day as a little girl. I am angry that not one of the specialists I have visited was able to understand what I was going through. I’m angry that every doctor did not recognize my struggles but instead made me, my mother and every one else, believe I was just not good enough. My childhood has been filled with feeling of being misunderstood, with rejections and worthlessness. Instead of receiving the help I needed, I discovered I was to blame until I started to blame myself very soon.
Almost twenty years I have been beating myself up for being unable to do what I was supposed to do, for being confronted with my struggles, that never where understood. The rejection and the annoyance about my behavior and emotions have made me stop to allow myself, to keep everything inside, hide me to try to fit in. This has resulted in lots of self-hate and denying. Two decades of trying to fit the mould and blaming myself when I wasn’t fitting enough, have broke me, disconnecting me from the dreamy but happy kid I once was.
Studies show that the small percentage of girls that get their ADHD diagnosis in childhood, are about years older than boys in the same situation, boys are 7 years on average, compared to the age of 12 years for girls. When I look back at these 5 years, my 7th to my 12th birthday, I notice how important these 5 years where. For me, these where the years that I truly started to change myself because of the rejections that came from my ADHD behavior. In these 5 years I turned from a happy kid into an insecure self-blaming silent girl. The years from 7 till 12, where a crucial part in how I started to deal with my ADHD brain, and help in these years could have changed my entire life, the image I have of myself and the way I threat myself an others.
I can only hope that more research will focus on ADHD in girls, that doctors, teaches and parents will learn to recognize this condition and let go of the stereotype hyperactive boy. I hope that more and more girls will receive their ADHD diagnosis at a young age, preventing them from all the pain I had to go through and still struggle with. I hope that girls with ADHD will receive the help they need, that they won’t be alone and learn how to stay close to themselves, because professional help and coaching is extremely important for them.
And when you are too late, know the effect
When I finally received my ADHD diagnosis I still did not receive any help/ My psychiatrist did not notice the damage caused by the years being misunderstood. After the diagnosis, I was sent home with my medication, my methylphenidate and I continued my life by myself, without any professional help.
Until this day I still did not find out how to properly deal with my symptoms or live my life. Not one doctor has ever noticed what is really going on inside me, how much pain and anger is hidden in there. No one noticed, until the point I broke down and wasn’t able to go on anymore.
For me, everything went wrong, the medical world has failed me, over and over again. I have been struggling and fighting all by myself, every day, with the completely wrong tools. I was ding everything I could to feel like I was allowed to belong in this world but I lost myself completely. I just wish that the next generation of girls will be understood, and get the help they need. I hope the girls that are now going through what I was experiencing over 20 years ago, will get the help they need, because they have so many good things, and they deserve to hang on to these, to show themselves and never ever start to blame.