Inside: An ADHD symptom checklist for adult females who may feel they display signs.
I have been recently diagnosed with ADHD and could have used this post myself when I first looked into it all. Sadly there isn’t that much out there relating to adults, let alone adult females with ADHD.
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a condition that affects people’s behaviour. Women with ADHD largely go undiagnosed as their symptoms are less socially disruptive and therefore they fall under the radar as children.
I hope this post will offer comfort, knowledge and support as you begin the quest to seeking out your diagnosis.
ADHD & FEMALES
I must first of all stress that I am not a doctor. Everything I share here is from my own experience and research. Do make sure you consult with your healthcare providers for a full diagnosis and care.
The reason there is so little information out there is the fact that up until now it has been thought that it was mainly males that have ADHD. That is not to say that no females ever get diagnosed but those instances are much more rare.
This is because typically, girls tend to display a different set of traits to boys, traits that don’t tend to be socially disruptive, and it therefore goes undetected.
It is only now, with the ability to share information on a mass scale, that women are coming forward and telling their stories. Those stories are resonating with other women and we (as well as healthcare professionals) are realising that there is a ‘lost generation’ of undiagnosed women.
You may have seen that there is a rise in cases recently, that the prevalence of ADHD is higher due to TikTok etc. This is all true. But not because it is a social media trend, but because people are well informed and are taking control of their lives. TikTok can’t make a doctor agree with you.
Where many women have been previously diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, depression and general mental health difficulties and medical conditions, it is now being put down to a consequence of unmanaged ADHD.
The lost generation are finally finding themselves.
Inattentive vs Impulsive ADHD
There are two types of ADHD; inattentive (previously known as ADD- Attention deficit disorder) and impulsive (hyperactive). It is generally the hyperactive type that people associate with school-age children & attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – their minds have visions of little boys running around causing havoc.
That is certainly how I envisioned it after years of teaching in primary schools.
And this is exactly how girls have slipped through the net. Many girls have inattentive type of ADHD and so do not run around or have ‘ants in their pants‘ so to speak. Instead, they sit quietly and are seen as shy and withdrawn. They don’t cause a problem to anyone and so nothing is deemed necessary in terms of having assessments.
The long and short of it seems to be this: unless you caused a problem, you didn’t get noticed.
And that is where we are now. So many females in the adult population who were quiet and unassuming in school are now realising that those traits are precisely the root of their issues. It has just taken them until adulthood to realise it.
ADHD Symptom Checklist
Have a look through the following ADHD symptoms to see if you might meet the diagnostic criteria (find a link to a full list below). I am going to group the list of symptoms into inattentive and impulsive, just to show you how different they are. You may notice a pattern straight away as you go through and mentally tick off those that resonate.
You may find you have a mix – that is absolutely normal. I myself present as a combined type, with a broad range of symptoms across the two types.
Symptoms of inattention, ADHD
- having a short attention span & being easily distracted
- making careless mistakes
- appearing forgetful or losing things
- being unable to stick to tedious or time-consuming tasks
- unable to listen to or carry out instructions
- constantly changing activity or task
- having difficulty organising tasks
Symptoms of hyperactivity, ADHD
- being unable to sit still, particularly during relaxing leisure activities
- constantly fidgeting
- unable to concentrate on tasks
- excessive physical movement
- excessive talking
- unable to wait their turn
- interrupting conversations
Neither of these lists are extensive and you will be able to find many other symptoms should you search for other articles, but these are the main characteristics that will be looked for by a medical professional.
You’ll also see symptoms such as sleep disorders and mood disorder thrown into the mix as well as many others. Just look for things that resonate with you.
My own personal symptoms
I thought it might be helpful if I shared the symptoms that I noted about myself and that I went on to share during my assessment.
As a child:
- Constantly daydreaming
- Doodling on paper / exercise books
- Get lost in books
- Told I could try harder
- Got distracted easily by others
- Struggled for years with maths
- Struggled making friends (imposter syndrome)
- Procrastinated with homework/ wouldn’t finish schoolwork
- Was able to hyperfocus for exams
- Everything last minute but did well under the pressure
Things definitely seemed to ramp up in middle school around age 12. This seems to be common in females.
As an adult:
- Hyper-focusing on projects and getting absorbed into the task at hand.
- Losing interest in projects/ hobbies and moving onto another obsession.
- Forgetful – rely on lists, reminders and alarms for everything.
- Poor time management
- Can’t focus on anything if I know I have somewhere to be later in the day.
- Always early to events as I have been ready for hours beforehand.
- Lose everything.
- Easily overwhelmed in daily activities
- Impulse buy frequently.
- Talk non-stop when excited about a topic
- Interrupt others if I feel I can relate to what they are saying
- Procrastinate with everything
- Insomniac episodes / sleep disorders
- Cannot relax – have to get up and do something
- Need things doing NOW
- Love to plan but never start things
- Always tired
- Do not have an identity that is my own – I mimic others.
- Imposter syndrome
- A terrible worrier – especially if I think I may have upset someone
- Want everyone to like me even if I don’t like everyone
- Struggle with overeating/ bingeing
- Low self-esteem
There is most likely more to add to that list but you get the idea. And the thing is, I always just believed I was odd. I struggled with so many aspects of life (being a mother to 3 has been a challenge I can tell you!) but always believed it was who I am.
And of course it is who I am, but now I understand why. And with understanding gives me the power to make changes to support who I am.
If you have gone through and nodded along to many of the symptoms listed here then it is definitely something worth investigating. You won’t be imagining it.
Getting an ADHD diagnosis
I live in England and so this is my personal experience of getting a diagnosis of ADHD. I will share my knowledge of how it may differ in Wales but if you are outside either of those countries you will have to speak to your healthcare provider to ask for guidance.
A timeline of events…
Requesting a doctors appointment – March
I spoke to my doctor and explained that I had been researching ADHD in females and that I thought I might have it too. With my previous anxiety & depression diagnosis I explained that I felt it was actually a by-product of ADHD rather than a standalone issue.
My doctor agreed that I had a case for an assessment and sent off my referral.
In England you are able to state your preferred healthcare provider under the Right To Choose initiative. I told my GP that I wanted to be referred to Psychiatry UK as they are specialists in mental health and you don’t have to wait for the usual paperwork to be processed through the NHS which is notoriously slow in this area.
Unfortunately you cannot access this initiative in Wales (or in N.I. I believe) so you will have to wait for the NHS referral to come through. Please ask your doctor for guidance for all other countries.
Referral received by PsychUK – 2 weeks later
I received an email and a text from PsychUK after 2 weeks to say they’d had the referral through from my doctor and they would be in touch with a date for my assessment. They gave me a login to their portal and some forms (for an ADHD symptom test) to fill out online ahead of the appointment.
After a week or so I got an appointment booked in. It was then a case of waiting.
Assessment – July
It was a long few months waiting for my assessment but compared to the years you may have to wait through the NHS it was nothing at all.
It was all done online through the PsychUK portal and I simply logged in to the meeting – a little like a zoom call.
My doctor went through the forms I had submitted and asked various questions. It was quite in depth, with queries around childhood to try and understand how my life has been affected so far – any significant problems etc… He wanted clear evidence that couldn’t be questioned.
Friends who have been through the process have had slightly less intense assessments so I guess it varies from doctor to doctor.
At the end of the assessment he said he would get back to me within 2 weeks with a diagnosis. Again, some of my friends had an outcome given at the end of the meeting so it just depends.
Receiving a diagnosis – 2 weeks later
I had a notification to say my notes had been updated and low and behold there was a letter stating that I had indeed got ADHD. I cried. The relief that I hadn’t been making it up, that there was a reason for so many things, it was just overwhelming.
I was given options (I’ll go into those in detail further on) but have decided to go with medication.
Titration – currently a 16 week wait
If you choose to try medication then you have to have an assessment with a titration nurse. Your medication doses and reactions are measured and assessed carefully over a few months to make sure you have the right dose for you. Close attention needs paying to your blood pressure and you receive a kit to be able to do this at home. There is a wait due to staff shortages at the moment.
Options following a diagnosis
Once you have your diagnosis you are given 3 options as part of your treatment plan:
- Live with the knowledge
- Behavioural therapy
Weirdly enough, just knowing makes such a big difference. Now that I know that there is a reason I behave in a certain way it is almost like I can stop feeling bad about it and cut myself some slack. I feel a lot calmer, just for knowing.
Knowledge is power as they say!
Therapy is an excellent resource and one that should be explored. I myself have been going to a hypnotherapist and that has been doing wonders. CBT is another option and in England you can access support through your employer if you have one (your doctor can help direct you to that resource).
Medication is the final option and of course not one to be taken lightly. However, I think many people feel like medication is an extreme solution but those people do not have to live with this day in day out. Only we know what it is like to be inside our own heads.
Nobody questions medication for someone with a heart murmur or with diabetes, do they? Our minds need support to help us live our lives – it is no different.
And actually I read something the other day that said, all we are doing is topping up in our bodies what other peoples’ bodies make naturally for them. There is no shame in needing support if your body can’t make something naturally.
Resources to get you started
Hopefully this post will give you the boost you need to go get the ball rolling with an appointment with your doctor.
Something I gave my doctor in my initial appointment was this form with the ADHD rating scales. I completed it for my own knowledge to start with but thought I’d take it along with me to show him. He said it was helpful so definitely complete it and take it with you too.
There is no single test that can be done to say wether you have ADHD or not. It is a summary of various tests, discussions and insight into who you are and the behaviours you display. However, the checklist will give you a rough idea moving forwards.
There are some wonderful groups on Facebook that can support you:
As I have mentioned, I was previously diagnosed with anxiety and depression. many friends of mine that I have got to know through this process have been mis-diagnosed with mood disorders, personality disorders and more due to similar symptoms.
If you feel as though there’s always been something else but you’ve never quite known what, I really hope this helps you.
Something else to note, is that some symptoms only display in certain social settings. So for example, put me in front of a group of children and I am totally fine. Put me in front of a group of adults and anxiety and imposter syndrome kick in. Sit me at a table with my friends and I’ll chat all night, sit me with a stranger and I am a mute.
You don’t have to view this as black and white, must check all the boxes all of the time, situation. If you can relax when you are on your own but around your kids you have to rush around keeping yourself busy, that’s just how you work. Fill out the forms however it feels right to you.
I have spent all of my adult life feeling as though I was odd. Struggling with the mental effort of so many daily activities. I’ve failed to complete so many things because I lose interest or feel as though I will never be good enough.
I cried when I got my diagnosis, not just because I finally had an answer, but because I felt grief for the life I haven’t lived. The life I wanted but never was able to focus on to achieve. All because I slipped through the cracks in the system. And because generally, we just adapt. But it could have all been so different.
The thing is though, we can’t go back and change things. The life I have now is one I’d never want to exchange- I have healthy children and a happy marriage. The thing to do now is focus on the future, move forward with the knowledge and power and see what can be achieved.
You can do it.