At my daughter’s 13th yearly checkup, our pediatrician sent me into the hallway for a few minutes so my daughter could share any private concerns. What she said to her doctor was not a secret to me. She didn’t like school and was frustrated by constant distraction, making her schoolwork take a lot longer than it should. What the pediatrician said when I came back in the room did shock me. She recommended my daughter be evaluated for ADHD.
Uhhh, what? MY kid?
My kid who is a bit of a perfectionist, who will write or draw – by choice – for hours, who tries incredibly hard to never get in trouble, who doesn’t love school but is managing well, who makes friends easily, has the insight of a certified psychologist into people’s personalities and will give me a dissertation on any one of them at the dinner table? THAT kid?
And then, in a matter of about 10 seconds, I went from, “That can’t possibly be correct,” to “Oh my goodness, this explains so many things,” to “I can’t believe I didn’t realize this – I’m a horrible mother!”
So how did I just NOT NOTICE my 13-year-old had ADHD?
For one thing, we are homeschoolers, and we have always been flexible in how we school to meet each child’s needs. As a result, what would be called “accommodations” in school are just how we do things here. Need extra time on an assignment? No problem. Need a second go-round on that math topic? Sure. Need extra practice with your vocabulary list? Let me print some. Want to read a passage aloud instead of in your head? Come sit next to me.
Setting that aside, there’s also THIS – that ADHD in girls looks a whole lot different than it looks in boys and different than what many of us think it looks like. While we may imagine an active, energetic boy unable to sit still when we think of ADHD, we don’t picture a well-behaved but withdrawn girl who tries hard yet struggles to feel successful. My daughter writing and drawing for hours – we call that hyperfocus, and it is a telltale sign of ADHD in girls and women. As a coping mechanism, girls tend to compensate for their tendency to be distracted by hyper-focusing on something that keeps them interested, entertained, and out of trouble.
Another reason girls are less likely to be diagnosed is that they more often have the inattentive type (distracted, “spacey”) of ADHD than the hyperactive type. Hyperactivity might make a boy appear busy – active, loud, energetic. A girl’s hyperactivity may look like excessive talking, constant interrupting, and being overly sensitive or emotional. Plus, even if girls are hyperactive, it is often attributed to their personality. An active girl who enjoys physical play is labeled a “tomboy,” not hyper, making it less likely her ADHD will be identified and treated.
Adolescence complicated things as well.
All of the above partially explain why I missed my daughter’s ADHD, but the severity of her symptoms was new. At the time she shared her concerns with our pediatrician, the massive shifting of hormones was intensifying her ADHD symptoms. While I certainly knew something didn’t feel right, I blamed most of it on puberty, as I recalled that time in my life was filled with upheaval, uncertainty, confusion, and self-doubt. Thankfully, her doctor could tell that wasn’t all that was going on.
And that leads to the last reason I missed my daughter’s ADHD and why I felt like such a horrible mom for not seeing it sooner – because it all seemed normal to me. I haven’t been evaluated or diagnosed, but I have read everything I can get my hands on about ADHD in girls and women in the last few months. The lists of traits and symptoms are nearly a perfect description of me. Of course, all of the things my daughter was experiencing seemed perfectly normal to me because I also experience the same things all the time and have for decades.
So, what now? Honestly, I don’t know. Right now, I am focused on helping my daughter deal with her diagnosis, finding the right fit for treatment, and planning her path forward for school. I don’t know if I will ever pursue testing for myself, as I’ve managed to make it to middle age as a reasonably successful and happy adult without a diagnosis. Whatever happens, I won’t forget what I’ve learned from my daughter – when something doesn’t feel quite right, keep asking. Tell people you care about, ask for help, and if it doesn’t work, keep asking. Someone will listen. You can find help if you are willing to keep reaching for it.