Something didn’t add up. I was definitely autistic, yet that on its own didn’t seem to account for everything. I need routine, deadlines and obligations to perform well, yet I detest having to follow that routine or keep to prearranged commitments. I will fixate on one particular topic but that focus will quickly move on to the next thing and I find it very difficult to prioritise what should be done first and where I should be putting my attention. I love organisation but have trouble keeping things organised at home and will be forever implementing new systems for remembering to clean the blinds, post birthday cards in time or take chicken out of the freezer.
Again, it was only once my child had received a diagnosis of ADHD that the penny dropped and I found an explanation for the characteristics that didn’t seem to be covered by what I understood as facets of autism. Why had ADHD also been missed for so long?
Research into neurodiversity in females in general is lacking, which means the guidance used by professionals to recognise ADHD et al. is outdated and unhelpful. Trying to compare the behaviours of a 40-year-old woman to those of a fidgety 8-year-old boy is unlikely to yield much. Even looking back at my own childhood, it is very clear that ADHD in girls can present very differently – I would be the last child you’d describe as hyperactive in a physical way, yet my mind was constantly whirring and I would pick up multiple, changing interests. You would not have seen a child struggling to sit still, to engage with the lesson or shouting out impulsively, because (a) I was intelligent and found the work easy without having to apply effort and (b) every single moment at school was consumed by MASSIVE ANXIETY that I might do or say something wrong, or break a rule, or be laughed at.
If the teachers and the doctors didn’t see anything, then it is not surprising that families didn’t either. I have vague memories of E numbers and additives being blamed for hyperactivity during my early childhood in the 1980s, but an introverted girl who reads a novel a night, plays the piano and likes vegetables is not going to be seen as a ‘problem’.
Why is recognising ADHD in adult women such an issue?
We might have partners, children, friends, mortgages, jobs and qualifications; we get our hair done, we dress ‘appropriately’, we go to social functions; we arrange parties for our children; we drive them to ballet every week; we make sure their PE kits are washed and and ready to wear; we post birthday cards on time* and turn up for our dental appointments.** The list goes on , but the point is that, superficially, doing all this means WE FIT IN.
Consider that all of the above, and the thousands more tasks we do and interactions we have, rely on having the skills that are impacted by ADHD, then how much effort and energy must we be using in the struggle against our own brains all day, every day, just to meet social expectations, and how crushing it feels to be told you have done something wrong, or at least not quite right.
That MASSIVE ANXIETY has followed me out of the gates of primary school, and the anticipation of being shamed and embarrassed is as strong now as it was then.
**Had to reschedule the last one three times, actually.