The stereotype of a primary school aged boy who disrupts the class and is full of energy has perpetuated a stigma of ADHD that has seen women and girls deny and suppress their experiences for decades.
After listening to host Mia Freedman explain her experience living and being diagnosed with Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as an adult on her podcast, Demi Aloisi began to question everything she thought to be true about her existence.
Following a lifetime’s worth of being labelled as a ‘high-maintenance princess’ and a constant struggle with behaviours and emotions she just assumed were part of her personality, Demi finally sought out an ADHD diagnosis in March last year.
Many months and a lot more money later, she was eventually diagnosed with both ADHD and Autism at thirty years old.
Even still, throughout her journey she has been confronted with perceptions and stereotypes that have made her second guess herself.
One of those came from a counsellor from an Employment Assistance Program who dismissed Demi’s curiosity, telling her that being diagnosed with ADHD had simply become a ‘trend’.
Over the last few years, social media has gone ablaze with content about ADHD and its symptoms — with a particular focus on how it affects adult women.
While an increase in women being diagnosed with ADHD in Australia has more anecdotal evidence than clear statistics right now, ADHD Australia reports 1 in 20 Australians live with ADHD.
Although the neurodevelopmental disorder affects numerous areas of brain function, it presents very differently between boys and girls.
Senior lecturer in clinical psychology at the University of Canberra, Rowena Beecham, says girls are far more likely to present with an ‘inattentive’ type of ADHD that often gets overlooked in childhood, compared to boys who tend to present with a more ‘hyperactive’ type of ADHD.
The hyperactive type of ADHD presents much more obviously and sees young boys diagnosed at a higher rate compared to young girls. Girls also learn to develop strategies and behaviours that mask their challenges and keep them hidden under the radar.
As more and more women seek out a diagnosis, Rowena says it’s important to be mindful about the labels we attach to other people’s behaviour.
She says that by continuing to feed into the stereotypes of what we think ADHD is or should be, we make it harder for people to get the help they need.