Surge in ADHD cases among women raises concerns over missed childhood diagnoses

SAN ANTONIO – Droves of women are finally realizing they’ve been living with a mental health condition their whole lives.

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders, typically diagnosed during childhood.

Between 2020 and 2022, the number of women aged 23 to 49 receiving an ADHD diagnosis nearly doubled.

“I was doing a ton of things to accommodate my own ADHD, I always have,” said entrepreneur Stephanie Scheller.

Scheller didn’t realize she was making all those accommodations until 2015, when she was in her late 20s and was diagnosed with ADHD.

“I just started seeing things, and I was like, wait, I do this because of my ADHD,” Scheller said.

Scheller’s memory and attention issues became clear.

“We need a lot more engagement than pretty much anyone else visually, tactile, auditory,” Scheller said.

Scheller did extensive research, conferred with doctors, and started the company Grow Disrupt, which creates events for people with ADHD to help them live their lives to the fullest.

“Like, ceiling height impacts your ability to focus, lighting impacts your ability to focus, and scents impact your brain in all these different ways,” Scheller said.

At her events, Scheller meets so many women who were also diagnosed later in life.

“Women tend to present differently with ADHD. So we don’t tend to get the same, like, ‘Oh, well, you can’t sit still.’ So we don’t get the diagnosis. The tests were not built for us. They were built for little boys,” she said.

That’s something psychotherapist and licensed professional counselor Lindsey McGehee sees all the time when diagnosing ADHD in women.

“It brings with it sometimes a lot of depression and anxiety and social problems,” McGehee said.

McGehee explained some of those mental health issues are masking the underlying condition – ADHD.

“One of the main symptoms in adult females is the exhaustion, because they’ve been working so hard to fit in, to check all the boxes, get everything done,” McGehee said.

McGehee said the diagnosis can be difficult to hear.

“There is a sense of regret. ‘I wish I had known. Why didn’t my parents? Why didn’t my teachers?’ There is some of that grief that we sometimes need to work through,” she said.

However, McGehee said that diagnosis is almost always met with relief.

“They’re like, “Oh! I can go to the doctor. I can get medication. I can go to therapy. I can talk to other people who have it and not feel like I’m trying to fit in. I actually belong,” McGehee said.

That sense of belonging is exactly what Sheller is trying to create.

“A space where we could actually one start to normalize the stuff that we’re all doing, that we all thought we were so weird for,” Scheller said.

A community she hopes more women will join once they’re tested and diagnosed, no matter how old they are.

“You can then figure out how to make accommodations for yourself. You can then figure out how to ask for accommodations if you want to,” Scheller said.

Scheller and McGehee both also found it important to let women know that ADHD and autism often co-occur.

“Oftentimes autism in females looks like ADHD or bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder. So if someone expects they may have ADHD, they should also look into an autism diagnosis,” McGehee said.

That’s why Scheller opens her events to everyone with neurodivergent conditions because they so often overlap.

They both said that if a woman sees this information and thinks they may have ADHD, she should reach out to a doctor and ask for an assessment. They said there is no shame in a diagnosis that can change your life.

They are also encouraging teachers and doctors to look for signs differently in girls and boys. McGehee already sees that happening and hopes it continues.

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