7 vs 37: The shocking ADHD diagnosis gender gap
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition (i.e. it doesn't go away), affecting individuals of all ages and genders. But when it comes to diagnosis, there's a gaping chasm between the sexes. On average, males are diagnosed with ADHD around the age of 7. Females on the other hand, typically receive a diagnosis at a much later age, with recent statistics revealing the average age to be a shocking 37 years old.
This significant gender gap in diagnosis raises critical questions about awareness, understanding, and support for females with ADHD. For years, ADHD has been predominantly studied and diagnosed in males, leading to a skewed perception of the condition. So the question is... how did this happen?
Underdiagnosis and misdiagnosis
One primary reason for the gender gap is the different ways ADHD manifests in females. Males with ADHD often display more noticeable hyperactivity, making their symptoms more readily apparent. On the other hand, females with ADHD may exhibit more internalised symptoms, such as inattentiveness and daydreaming, which can go unnoticed or be misattributed to other causes like anxiety or depression.
Societal expectations play a significant role in the gender gap. Females are often encouraged to be quiet, attentive, and well-behaved, which can lead to their ADHD symptoms being overlooked or dismissed as mere personality traits. As a result, they may develop coping mechanisms that mask their symptoms, making it challenging for healthcare professionals to recognise the underlying condition.
Historically, ADHD research and diagnostic criteria have been based on male presentations of the disorder. This bias has hindered our understanding of how ADHD affects females, contributing to the gender gap in diagnosis.
For those who receive a late ADHD diagnosis, the journey is challenging, but it also presents an opportunity for personal growth and empowerment
Receiving an ADHD diagnosis later in life is a complex and emotional experience. Many who receive such a diagnosis, myself included, look back at their lives with newfound clarity, realising that our struggles were, in fact, manifestations of a neurodevelopmental condition.
After my diagnosis, I went on a whirlwind growth journey and found that some key steps helped me move forward positively and with purpose:
- Education: learning about ADHD was a crucial first step. Understanding the condition, its symptoms, and how it may impact my life was empowering.
- Self-acceptance: I began to acknowledge that ADHD is the fabric of who I am. It's not a flaw or a failure but a neurological difference.
- Reflection: I took time to reflect on my past experiences, both my struggles and successes. I recognise now, how ADHD may have influenced my choices and decisions. This has led to a much deeper understanding of myself.
- Professional support: I developed strategies and treatments tailored to my specific needs. Medication, therapy, and coaching are options worth exploring.
- Peer support: I connected with others who have ADHD, especially females who have had similar experiences to my own. Sharing stories and coping strategies was incredibly validating and reassuring.
- Capitalise on strengths: ADHD can bring challenges, but it also offers unique strengths like creativity, hyperfocus, and resilience. I capitalised on these strengths as I moved forward.
- Practise self-care: This is the one I found hardest as it felt most, well... boring! However, adequate sleep, a balanced diet, regular exercise, and mindfulness techniques played a large part in the management of my ADHD symptoms.
The gender gap in ADHD diagnosis is a stark reminder of the need for increased awareness and understanding of neurodiversity and a testament to the power of societal expectations and the historical bias in our perception of ADHD.
For those who receive a late ADHD diagnosis, the journey is challenging, but it also presents an opportunity for personal growth and empowerment. ADHD is not a limitation but a facet of our identity, and with the right strategies and a supportive community, we can thrive and finally, begin to fall in love with our neurodiversity.