It’s been somewhat a forgone conclusion that male children were the dominant portion of the population diagnosed and suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
But adults, particularly women, are now being treated for the same illness, though the path to diagnosis may be long and difficult.
Some experts estimate that nearly 90% of women with ADHD are misdiagnosed and are instead treated for depression or even blown off as merely distracted or ditzy.
Associate professor of Pediatrics and Neurology at Boston Medical Center, Dr. William DeBassio, believes the issue of misdiagnosis is due to a lack of understanding by the populous and medical professionals themselves.
“I think women are misdiagnosed because the perception is still that hyperactivity is the problem when it really is the inattention that causes the disability. Women tend to have more inattention and less hyperactivity. The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” he explains.
DeBassio goes on to suggest that the idea of women having ADHD has a lot of social stigma, as well.
“I think it is a relatively recent idea that women should be doing as well as men in all academic areas, math included. By recent I mean the last 40 years. When the beginning of the syndrome of ADDH and ADHD was being separated out as a distinct phenomena in the 50's and 60's, women may not have been as often pushed to or expected to excel,” he purports.
The book Driven to Distraction, by co-authors Dr. Edward Hallowell and Dr. John Ratey first brought this phenomena of women with ADHD to the spotlight in 1994. Still the rate of diagnosis and treatment hasn’t reached the rates that some in the medical community would like to see. Hallowell lists the criteria for diagnosis in both adults and children on his highly detailed web site largely devoted to the topic. According to Dr. DeBassio, the major symptom to look for in adults is underachievement, which he explains can be much harder to do outside of the well-monitored childhood setting.
“For adults it is very difficult to monitor behavior. It is not convenient to ask an employer if their employee is paying more attention, or a spouse if their significant other is getting more things done. It seems more an invasion of privacy. Because of this, managing adults is much more subjective. In addition, if an adult is doing a job they are good at because their achievement earlier made them qualified for this job, the attention issues are less for an adult. The distractions are less for an adult. When adults get together as a group of 25, we call that a meeting and very little work is done. Information may be conveyed, but most people are passive observers,” he says.
Dr. Hallowell believes pharmaceutical companies could be doing more to support the notion that women do, in fact, have this disorder. If you turn on the television you’re bound not see advertisements for the disorder for women, but you will be inundated with ads relating to depression medications. However, Hallowell admits that “medication is not “the key,” insight and education is.”
Many professionals agree that life coaching and/or counseling can go a long way to help patients manage and develop new behaviors. Some treatment centers now offer cognitive behavioral therapy to help improve upon a persons’ “executive function.” Dr. Hallowell’s web site offers some additional information for patients and families regarding treatment. There are also quite a few online support groups for ADHD sufferers and information leading to diagnosis.