Unknowingly living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be a debilitating experience. Those with undiagnosed conditions tend to find life more difficult and may be left secretly judging themselves or being judged unfairly by others.
Sadly, because girls and women are under-diagnosed for ADHD and ASD in comparison to boys, they are more likely to be suffering in silence.
The secret to living a fulfilling and successful life with a neurodevelopmental disorder such as ADHD or ASD is to be assessed and access necessary support as early in life as possible. According to Dr Simone Gindidis, Developmental Psychologist and Clinical Lead at TALi, girls and women with ADHD who are diagnosed later as adults spend longer contending with attentional difficulties that can impair learning, self-esteem, mental health, relationships and access to opportunities.
“This in turn not only delays access to life-changing interventions that can include a mix of medication, with behavioural and psychological skill development,” says Simone, “but the delay invalidates women’s lived experience by minimising the negative impact inattentive symptoms can have on daily functioning.”
“It goes without saying that the longer any person experiences issues that can otherwise be supported, the higher the likelihood that their mental health and wellbeing will be negatively impacted,” she continues. “Studies suggest women with ADHD are more likely to experience mood disorders (e.g. anxiety or depression), severe mental illness, and even hospital admissions.1 This reinforces the importance of better awareness for how ADHD presents in girls, so we can improve early detection, intervention and minimise the personal, social and economic costs.”
A report presented by The Project echoes these sentiments by providing a first-hand account of some of the challenges and stereotypes women face when living with undiagnosed ADHD.
In discussing the effects of late diagnosis on girls with ASD, Tom Osborn, Clinical Psychologist and Director of Chology says, “Females with undiagnosed ASD often feel that there is something ‘wrong’ with them or that they don’t belong. They may watch their peers and attempt to mimic social behaviour as a way to fit in, which can be incredibly exhausting and places a lot of pressure on the individual.”
Similar to Simone’s observations of undiagnosed women with ADHD, Tom confirms those with undiagnosed ASD are also more likely to suffer over the long-term without appropriate supports in place. They are also more susceptible to other mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.
The secret to giving women the best chance at living their best lives, regardless of diagnosis, is to assess and support difficulties as early in life as possible. This will help ensure they are educated about their specific challenges and can educate others on their neurodiversity, as opposed to being confused or hindered by it.
This article is part two of TALi’s Focus on Girls series. You can read part one here: Why are girls diagnosed with ADHD and ASD later than boys?
If this article has raised any questions, please consider reaching out to one of the below organisations for information and support:
1. Young, S., Adamo, N., Ásgeirsdóttir, B.B. et al. Females with ADHD: An expert consensus statement taking a lifespan approach providing guidance for the identification and treatment of attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder in girls and women. BMC Psychiatry 2020; 20: 404.