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Identifying ADHD in Women and Managing Symptoms

Have you ever wondered as an adult if you have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) that has gone undiagnosed your whole life? Have you struggled with keeping yourself organized or perhaps you are easily distracted and can’t complete a task? Maybe you chronically run late or don’t have effective systems in place to stay on track. When we think about ADHD, a 6 year old boy wiggling in his classroom seat is what comes to mind. While that is a PART of the story when it comes to ADHD, it certainly isn’t the WHOLE story. We were interested in learning more about how WOMEN are impacted by ADHD either as a lifelong journey or as a disorder that developed later in life.   

Cena Block, MS and Certified Productivity Coach and Consultant 

We spoke with Cena Block who is a Certified Productivity Coach and Consultant specializing in treating clients with ADHD. Cena is an expert in her field with hundreds of hours of training and multiple certifications. She also had a career spanning 25 years as a certified trainer and organizer before transitioning to her current consulting business in coaching. She always gravitated towards clients with depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Traumatic brain Injury (TBI) and ADHD. She explained, “ADHD had been much more a part of my life, narrative and family than I had originally thought.” When Cena went on to gain her additional certifications in coaching, it only made sense that she work with a similar clientele. 

Let’s talk about what is happening in a brain with ADHD. To keep it simple and put it into layman's terms, ADHD,as Cena explains, is a condition that interrupts the brain's executive functioning abilities.  Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is, by the way, the current term for this specific development disorder seen in both children and adults. A brain scan would show that the "hyperactivity" has more to do with your brain activity than body movement. There is a lack of neurotransmitters and hormones responsible for them to fire efficiently.  

What to look for in ADHD

Predominantly Inattentive Presentation:

Easily distracted, forgets details or daily routines

  • Difficulty organizing finishing a task.

  • Challenged when it comes to paying attention to details.

  • Can’t follow instructions or conversations. ·         

Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation:

The person fidgets and talks a lot. 

  • Hard to sit still for long (e.g.,for a meal or while doing homework).

  • Smaller children may run, jump or climb constantly.

  • Restlessness and difficulty with impulsivity. 

  • Tends to interrupt others, grab things from people, or speak at inappropriate times. 

  • It is hard for the person to wait their turn or listen to directions. 

  • May have more accidents and injuries than others.

Combined Presentation:

Symptoms of the above two types are equally present in the person.

  • Because symptoms can change over time, the presentation may change over time as well.

Keep in mind, over scheduling can make you feel out of control and question if you have ADHD OR or if you are busy and overs scheduled. Begin by thinking in terms of your lifelong, self-management challenges, your work and educational performance, relationships and behavioral history to initially consider some of those self-evaluation considerations. (more to come on that below).

ADHD In Women

Cena shared with us that although originally diagnosed in the late 1800’s, the evolution of ADHD, especially since the 1970’s, was thought of as a disorder affecting school aged boys. That little boy in class who couldn’t sit still was quickly identified as having ADHD yet INATTENTIVE BEHAVIOR, or daydreaming, which is more common in little girls AND is also less disruptive to the classroom, goes under the radar. Interestingly enough, over the past 10 years with advanced genetic testing and more clinical studies, women in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s seeking help for their children exhibiting symptoms, end up getting diagnosed themselves with ADHD. 

MANY high-performing women, according to Cena, who have ADHD have traditionally figured out how to “get by” with ADHD.  Girls and women have been more often diagnosed with anxiety and depression than ADHD. While such comorbid conditions can happen with any mental health condition, we know that untreated ADHD can lead to anxiety and depression. Consequently, as Cena explains, when women are adequately diagnosed and treated for ADHD, the secondary symptoms and conditions seem to disappear. There is a trickle down effect: Medications help their brains work better, they stop feeling bad about themselves, and get more done.

Cena shared “Did you know that ADHD is the most treatable condition in the field of mental health today. It is! Nearly 80% of diagnosed people who take ADHD medication report a significant positive affect.” Professionals find that most successful ADHD'ers first become aware of their symptoms on their own and learn how to manage them. 

Unfortunately, if ADHD is not addressed, relationships, parenting and even careers can be impacted. Cena explains that even if diagnosed as an adult, ADHD can be treated with medication, lifestyle changes, psychotherapy or a combination. 

Diagnosing ADHD

How do I know if I have ADHD?

If you think you have ADHD, you should get an evaluation but start with a self-evaluation:

  • Self-talk: Do you find yourself in endless internal dialogs about what you do and what you want to do, or can’t do? 

  • Do you find yourself shaming yourself internally? 

  • Do you compare yourself unfairly to others? 

  • Do you feel like a fraud, a mess, or that something is wrong with you that you can’t measure up in some way? 

What would an ADHD evaluation look like?

  • Comprehensive medical history review

  • Analysis of past behaviors

  • Review of current symptoms

  • A medical exam

  • Use of adult rating scales or checklists  

Here are some behavior management strategies you can start today:

  • Minimize distractions 

  • Increase structure and organization

  • Rely on immediate family members for support

  • Make healthy lifestyle choices 

  • Plenty of sleep and rest (this is important. It takes a lot of effort for an ADHD brain to behave Neurotypically so recharging with sleep and rest is key!)

  • Work with a coach - this is an effective way to pinpoint individual ADHD challenges and develop a customized approach

Are there aspects of ADHD that I should embrace? 

The short answer is YES! People with ADHD exhibit some traits that prove to contribute to their success, propel their individuality and drive them to explore a life of adventure. In fact, research was conducted using the VIA Character Strengths Assessment, (Sedgwick, J. A., Merwood, A., & Asherson, P. (2018)) to determine if people with ADHD had any patterns of character strengths at a greater rate when compared to the control group of people in general.

Here are a few of the many fabulous traits identified with ADHD. Do you recognize any in yourself?

  • cognitive dynamism and energy

  • divergent thinking

  • hyper-focus

  • nonconformist, 

  • adventurousness

  • self-acceptance 

  • resilience

  • creativity

  • persistence

  • social intelligence

  • humor

If you have always wondered if you have ADHD, start with an ADHD self-screening assessment. Based on the results, talk with your primary physician or contact an ADD specialist. Many women over 50 with ADHD have figured out how to navigate their whole lives through school, careers and managing busy households.  As Cena stated, it is never too late to get the treatment needed to overcome some of the disruptive symptoms that often prove to be burdensome so you can maximize your potential. 

Cena Block, MS, CPC

Founder & CEO of Sane Spaces, LLC

Creator of the Time & Space Style Inventory (TSSI)

Certified Productivity Coach & Consultant.

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