We’re all familiar with the term “work-life balance.” But it wasn’t always as popular a…
You may have noticed an increase, recently, in how often you’re hearing about ADHD from the adults around you…
And they may not be talking about their kids.
Adult women, in particular, are receiving ADHD diagnoses at a much-increased rate over the past couple of years.1 This surge raises questions—after all, if ADHD is not a childhood condition that primarily impacts boys, as we’ve long believed, what does that mean for those of us raising girls?
And if those girls are already high-achievers, what should we pay attention to?
Why Is ADHD on the Rise in Adult Women?
So why is ADHD on the rise, anyway?
Some believe ADHD is merely “on the rise” due to the popularity of online content creators and influencers who talk about the disorder on social media. And while there’s certainly a grain of truth there, we’ve also learned something that’s far more important…
For a long time, we’ve been under-diagnosing ADHD in teen girls.
As access to information spreads and more adult women seek evaluation, we’re identifying patterns many have displayed since childhood. Diagnostic tools for ADHD have also improved, which means women are receiving more accurate diagnoses for symptoms that were either overlooked or misattributed to other conditions—like anxiety or depression.
We’ve also experienced large-scale societal changes, including increased demands placed on women at home, academically, and in the workplace. The Covid-19 pandemic added significant pressure, as well, onto women who were already shouldering much of the at-home care burden for their children and families.2
The stress related to these changes have exacerbated underlying symptoms of ADHD in adult women, leading to delayed recognition and diagnosis.
Finally, we’ve come to understand that ADHD symptoms often present differently in women than in men—they are often internalized or “quieter” than the visibly hyperactive presentations we’ve come to expect in young boys.
It’s not necessarily that ADHD is “on the rise” in recent years. Advanced diagnostic tools and a deeper understanding of the condition has led to better identification in those adult women who have often struggled for years.
What Is High Functioning ADHD in Women?
High functioning ADHD is a nuanced form of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder that’s gaining significant attention, especially amongst high-performing adult women. While it isn’t an official diagnosis, the term “high functioning” implies a capability to manage symptoms alongside strong intellectual abilities.
Despite such strengths, however, women with high functioning ADHD face many challenges that often fly under the radar due to their success in other areas of life.
ADHD in adult women often presents differently than in men or young boys. Women with ADHD—especially high functioning ADHD—are more likely to exhibit “inattentive” symptoms, rather than visibly hyperactive ones.
This might look like:
- Difficulty sustaining attention for long periods of time (especially if the task feels tedious or the subject matter is boring!);
- Forgetfulness when it comes to completing tasks, misplacing items, or implementing new daily routines;
- Being easily sidetracked by unrelated thoughts or environmental distractions;
- Difficulty organizing work, managing time, or following through on tasks;
- Making “careless” mistakes in schoolwork or professional projects because they tend to overlook details; or
- Difficulty listening, especially for long periods of time.
Everyone deals with these challenges from time to time—they aren’t unusual. But for women with high functioning ADHD, these behaviors are consistent, pervasive throughout all areas of life, and a hindrance to their day-to-day life.
For women, especially, these symptoms may be attributed to depression, anxiety, or a general inability to stay organized. But the tides are turning, based on increased awareness of ADHD and its symptoms, improved diagnostic practices, and evolving societal norms that challenge long-standing gender biases when it comes to ADHD diagnosis.
The rise in recognition of high functioning ADHD in women and girls underlines a need to understand this condition better—after all, understanding leads to better, more targeted support and intervention, enhancing the quality of life for those with ADHD.
How Might ADHD Affect a High-Achieving Teen Girl?
The rise in diagnoses of high functioning ADHD in adult women holds significant implications for parents of teen girls—particularly those showing promise in academics, athletics, and the performance arts.
High functioning ADHD in teen girls often goes unnoticed, making it harder to address. Teens may excel in certain areas but face challenges in others, especially in high-pressure environments.
ADHD may present challenges for teen girls in these areas, but it can also offer unique strengths that, if appropriately nurtured, can lead to distinctive achievements.
In sports, for example, girls with high functioning ADHD might struggle with consistent focus. It may not be easy for them to follow through on long, complex tasks, practice sessions, or the development skills that haven’t come naturally. However, they often bring a unique perspective, innovative strategies, and resilience to the table.
These traits can, in many ways, be beneficial on a sports team.
The performing arts present similar scenarios. Remembering routines and managing stage fright can be difficult for girls with high functioning ADHD. Yet, when nurtured appropriately, their spontaneity, expressiveness, and energy can make their performances truly stand out.
How Parents Can Support Their ADHD Teen
Learning that your child needs special support can be unsettling. But ultimately, an ADHD diagnosis simply provides an opportunity for understanding your teen’s unique challenges and strengths—because there are plenty of strengths!
With the right support and strategies, girls with high functioning ADHD can thrive, turning potential challenges into distinctive abilities.
Lean Into Learning
A key starting point is to learn all you can about ADHD and high functioning ADHD in women and girls. Understand the condition, its various manifestations, and its potential impact on various parts of your child’s life. Remember not to look at it as a deficit—it absolutely does not have to be.
Education can help you not only provide appropriate support but also help your child understand themselves better, as well as communicate more effectively with their teachers and coaches.
Communicate with Your Child
Don’t leave your child in the dark! There’s nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to having an ADHD diagnosis. In fact, the current pop culture familiarity with ADHD has removed much of its stigma.
Maintain an open and ongoing dialogue about your child’s experiences, challenges, and victories. Encourage them to leave social comparison behind and develop the tools and strategies they, specifically, need to thrive. This ability will suit them well throughout their life!
Be Your Teen’s Advocate
Parents play a pivotal role in advocating for their children. Do what you can to ensure your child’s needs are met in school, at home, and in extracurricular activities. Seek accommodations when necessary—this may mean advocating for access to ADHD-friendly strategies and tools in the classroom, on the field, or on stage.
Embrace a Strengths-Based Approach
High functioning ADHD comes with its own set of challenges, but it also brings a lot of unique strengths—like creativity and perseverance, to name two.3 Recognizing and nurturing these strengths can boost your child’s confidence, give them insight into their own abilities, and help them reach their potential.
Supporting a teen girl with high functioning ADHD isn’t about eliminating the challenges associated with the condition—it’s about understanding, embracing, and navigating them effectively.
Because with the right supports, every teen has the potential to excel.
High Functioning ADHD Isn’t a Limitation
ADHD isn’t a limitation—it brings both strengths and challenges with it. For teen girls navigating the world of athletics, performing arts, or academics, a diagnosis can be a stepping stone toward a deeper understanding of themselves and their potential.
Your support of your child can be transformative. You—as well as your child’s coaches and teachers—will play a vital role in their journey, for better or worse. By helping our teens understand themselves and their own unique needs, we can guide them in turning potential hurdles into launchpads for success.
If you or your high-performing child are struggling to navigate a high functioning ADHD diagnosis, professional guidance can help! Get in touch today to schedule a consultation.