ADHD in Women Checklist: Symptoms Spotlight

Demi Aspey
8 mins read
Oct 9, 2023

Ladies, have you ever been overwhelmed, struggling to regulate your emotions, and always in a persistent burnout cycle?

Yep, me too!

And while these symptoms alone do not signify the presence of ADHD, more and more women are discovering their beautifully neurodiverse minds.

If you've navigated your way to this article, you're on a mission for understanding, eager to dismantle misconceptions, and ready to arm yourself with actionable insights. 

You've come to the right place. 

We’re not here to help you diagnose yourself. You should always leave this in the hands of an ADHD professional.

However, you’re looking for answers, and we’re here to offer direction.

We've assembled a meticulously crafted checklist, expert insights, and many resources begging to be bookmarked. 

So, grab that cup of tea or coffee, get comfy, and let's start!

Identifying ADHD Symptoms in Women 🔍

So, you've heard of ADHD, but have you ever considered why it seems to be a covert issue among women? 

Whether it's societal stereotypes, misunderstandings, or the labyrinth of the healthcare system, ADHD can manifest differently in women. 

Sometimes, it's like deciphering a complex puzzle with challenges around attention, emotional turbulence, and the demands of daily multitasking.

Sadly, as with many areas of healthcare for women, research surrounding ADHD in women has been minimal.

Up until now!

Unwrapping the Mystery of Underdiagnosis

50-75% of women with ADHD in the UK are undiagnosed.

And only ∼75,000 (out of 1 million) UK adult women with ADHD are accessing healthcare.

Often, women are not diagnosed until their 20s/30s and, as a result, are neglected by health services.

But wait, why does this condition often elude diagnosis for women? 

The answer could be more straightforward. 

It has numerous layers. 

Women, especially adult women, often develop coping mechanisms that masquerade as functional behaviour.

We call this ADHD masking, which isn’t reserved only for women, but many of us resort to it.

ADHD masking meme

On top of that, the expectations from family, work, and society can lead to confusion, misdiagnosis, and a host of stigmas.

We want to blend in, people please, and constantly meet our unrealistic expectations.

Then there’s the lack of research.

ADHD in women can also remain elusive as presentation often leans towards inattentiveness and emotional irregularities instead of hyperactivity

ADHD is commonly associated with the naughty boy in class who can’t sit still or who has to disrupt as if driven by a motor. 

On the other hand, women and girls are more likely to daydream while staring out of a window or struggle to manage emotions and stress.

In many ADHD studies, the female-to-male participant ratio has been minimal.

Many researchers determined that the symptoms between the sexes should be precisely the same. 

So, when females display more internalised, less recognisable symptoms, it has often been determined ADHD is not present.

How Does ADHD Differ in Women? 🤷‍♀️

The Gender Divide in ADHD

You've probably resorted to 'masking' or adopted coping strategies, conscious or unconscious, to get through your daily responsibilities. 

ADHD masking and overworking tweet @adhdjesse

If that rings a bell, then you're already familiar with how gender-specific ADHD can be. 

ADHD in women often leans more towards inattentiveness rather than hyperactivity, but this isn’t always the case. 

The lesser seen or understood symptoms create a diagnostic challenge, even for professionals specialising in the field.

Male displays of symptoms primarily inform the DSM-V diagnostic criteria.

It does not account for troubles with emotional dysregulation, the differences in hormonal fluctuation, or societal pressures imposed on both sexes. 

It also doesn’t note how well women can mask symptoms to the point that they only recognise them as personality faults rather than neurological ones.

Women are far more likely to be diagnosed with mood disorders such as depression or anxiety, often comorbid symptoms of ADHD.

Worryingly, they are also far more likely to be misdiagnosed with personality disorders like BPD.

I stumbled across this essay during my PhD research, which was eye-opening regarding women’s mental health treatment on account of societal silencing. 

Societal Scripts and Their Impact

Historically, women have been painted as the organisers, the emotional bedrocks, and the caregivers in familial setups. 

The weight of these societal roles can inadvertently obscure the symptoms of ADHD, making it all the more challenging to achieve a timely diagnosis.

Many of us spend most of our lives coping until we cannot cope anymore. 

Types of ADHD in Women 🧠

A Spectrum of Presentations

Believe it or not, ADHD is far from being a monolithic condition. 

It presents in various shades and tones, each with its own challenges and potential coping strategies. 

The key to recognising if you have ADHD ultimately lies in the persistence of symptoms over your life.

Though research evolves daily, most professionals expect the signs to have been present since childhood. 

Knowing the type can significantly aid in adopting the correct therapeutic interventions.

The Inattentive Type: A Closer Look

Labelled as daydreamers, these individuals find focusing challenging and are often forgetful but incredibly creative. 

daydreaming adhd meme

If your mind often drifts to far-off places or forgets the small details, this might be your ADHD type.

The Hyperactive/Impulsive Type: An Exploration

While less commonly observed in women, this presentation does exist.

Characterised by an irrepressible urge to move, impulsivity, and a penchant for verbal outpouring, the hyperactive/impulsive type is both complex and intriguing.

The Combined Type: A Blend of Challenges

A combination of inattentive and hyperactive symptoms make this the 'combined type.' 

If your ADHD symptoms seem to be all over the map, you could fall into this category.

Many symptoms may include mood highs and lows, overtalking, and a surplus of energy that comes in short bursts with an inevitable come down.

The Impact of ADHD on Women's Lives 🙍‍♀️

The Far-Reaching Consequences

ADHD isn't just a challenge with focus and attention; it's a condition that reverberates throughout your life, from relationships and academic performance to professional development and self-esteem.

The Snare of Late Diagnosis

A diagnosis that comes late in life can have devastating repercussions. 

It can amplify the struggles, making the road to understanding and management all the more daunting. 

The DSM-V focuses primarily on symptoms that affect those around the individual rather than the individual—for example, disruptiveness, forgetfulness, and failure to follow through on tasks and duties.

It doesn’t pay all that much attention to the internal struggles and, as noted, those we end up masking to fit our societal roles.

Sadly, a lack of recognition means more women internalise these issues as a problem of self.

It can lead to severe mental health conditions and, most devastatingly, a higher suicide rate, with nearly 1 in 4 women with ADHD attempting to take their lives at some point.

Girls with ADHD that persists beyond childhood experience sizeable detrimental outcomes in almost every domain, including self-injury, educational achievement, occupational attainment, health problems, social and overall impairment.

But allow me to serve as a beacon of hope.

I didn’t get diagnosed until I was twenty-nine.

I felt utterly broken and like I was an outsider.

Twelve months into diagnosis, I feel more in control, I am accepting myself more, and I have hope for my future.

All of these result from expert help, therapy, medication, lifestyle changes and building an unshakeable support network.

So, if you’re feeling lost, let me tell you it does get better—diagnosis or not.

It starts with self-acceptance, taking action and being unapologetically you in a world that only encourages conformity.

Signs of ADHD in Women 🎯

Navigational Indicators

Think of these as your signposts on the path of understanding ADHD.

Whether it's difficulties with staying organised, time management, emotional control, or anything else, identifying these signs is your first step toward an empowered life.

ADHD and Perfectionism

ADHD and The Burnout Cycle

ADHD Task Paralysis

Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD)

The ADHD Guide

ADHD and Overthinking

me overthinking my overthinking meme

ADHD in Women Checklist: Symptom Spotlight 🔦

(Important Disclaimer: This checklist should not be considered a diagnostic tool. For any medical concerns, always consult a qualified healthcare provider.)

  1. Having difficulty controlling sudden impulsive actions
  2. Time blindness and inconsistent time management
  3. Disorganisation in personal and professional life
  4. Prone to distraction when it's time to focus
  5. Restlessness and difficulty sitting still
  6. Feeling chronically overwhelmed
  7. Memory gaps and forgetfulness
  8. Chronic incompletion of tasks
  9. Difficulty regulating emotions
  10. Varied performance in tasks

Outside of the standard ADHD symptoms that broadly fit into the categories above, women may also experience:

  1. Zoning out during conversations
  2. Perfectionism and people-pleasing
  3. Use a pile system to organise things
  4. Irritability or intense episodes of rage or tears
  5. Showing up late and often missing appointments
  6. Low self-esteem and feeling lonely or misunderstood
  7. Find it hard to follow directions or instantly forget them
  8. Difficulty with waking up in the morning and falling asleep late
  9. Fractured relationships due to emotional dysregulation, RSD, and inattentiveness
  10. Setbacks in career and education due to overwhelm, stress and lack of tools for coping with symptoms
  11. Addictions as a result of lack of dopamine, e.g. impulsive shopping, alcohol, binge eating, binge watching
relatable adhd memes

Curated Resources for Women with ADHD 📝

For those looking to go the extra mile, here are some invaluable ADHD productivity tools, ADHD products, and an ADHD body doubling website where you can find a supportive and understanding community.

These tools help manage daily symptoms, relieve loneliness and anxiety and ultimately help you live a more fulfilled life.

And if you want to read or learn more about ADHD, try some of these ADHD books or ADHD podcasts.

Final Thoughts 💭

Ladies, if there's one thing you take away from this all-encompassing guide, let it be this: 

ADHD may be intricate, but it's not an insurmountable mountain. 

We can navigate the fog together with the proper knowledge, a supportive network, and a dash of self-love.

Frequently Asked Questions: Your Burning Queries Answered

Why is ADHD Often Diagnosed Later in Life for Women?

ADHD in women can remain elusive due to subtle symptoms and societal roles that can serve as effective smoke screens.

It is perhaps why we are seeing a spike in ADHD diagnoses.

It has nothing to do with it being a trendy condition and everything to do with the lack of knowledge surrounding women’s unique symptoms.

Is ADHD More Prevalent in Men or Women?

While statistics suggest a higher prevalence in men, this could very well be attributed to the underdiagnosis in women.

What Makes ADHD Symptoms Different for Women?

The presentation often leans towards inattentiveness and emotional irregularities instead of hyperactivity.

How Can I Connect with Other Like-Minded Women?

Between online communities, localised support groups, and specialised ADHD coworking spaces, a whole world of support awaits you!

Remember, understanding ADHD is a marathon, not a sprint. 

Take your time, soak in the knowledge, and be gentle with yourself. 

You've got this!

Sources & References

  1. A Call To Action; The Majority of Women with ADHD are Being Left Behind by the Health System; ADHD Foundation
  2. Looking Back on 42 Years of Research on ADHD in Females; Duke Center for Girls & Women with ADHD
  3. Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2020, Minimisation and Medicalisation: How Modern Psychiatry Contributes to the subjugation of Women's Self Expression and Experiences of Trauma
  4. Swinkels J., et al, 2019, Explaining the Gender Gap in the Caregiving Burden of Partner Caregivers
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Demi Aspey
Demi is the founder of the creative agency, Sonder Script, a culture columnist for House of Coco magazine, a part-time lecturer, and a soon-to-be Doctor in screenwriting. She is a scriptwriter by speciality and a copywriting cultivator by trade. Demi is a mental health advocate and was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult.