ADHD in Girls and Women

Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder - my 'H' is silent

I have ADHD.  Like many women and girls, I was late to be diagnosed and fall into the ADHD - Inattentive category. I didn’t exhibit the ‘classic’ male symptoms: I didn’t run around and I could sit still.  My issue is focus.  


As a child, I was:

  • Messy and disorganized (room, desk, schoolwork, etc.)
  • Very sensitive, kind, and always tried to please others
  • Unable to stand up for me but defended others
  • Plagued by a wicked temper brought on by extreme frustration or sense of disappointment and overwhelm
  • A creative thinker and not good at formulaic work
  • Brutally competitive at teacher-led lessons, but couldn’t commit them to workbooks
  • Very smart but “not working to [my] potential”, “lazy”, and “disorganized”
  • Also dealing with an accompanying learning disability (mine is reading comprehension)

She’s a nice girl, but….

I remember each report card reading the same lines: “she’s a nice girl, but….”.  I could sit through the lessons and understand everything but couldn’t sit down and do 20 questions for homework.  I conveniently ‘forgot’ workbooks at school when my parents asked, or at home when the teacher asked.  As a child, I could never seem to navigate my way around reading comprehension (I always seemed to overlook the details) or an essay – the format is so linear for the way my mind processed information.   This continued into high school, where I had an overachieving stubbornness, and downright mule-headed capacity to learn, exceeding many of my peers, but a painfully detrimental inability to ever get it into a notebook.  


Having ADHD as a woman is a dichotomy

I am:

  • A distracted perfectionist – I place impossibly high standards on myself and value facts, details, and knowledge, which means I take the fun out of everything BUT, I cannot function if the rug is crooked, even though dishes and laundry piles might reach the ceiling.
  • In constant analysis mode - everyone looks at a table, I look underneath to see the joinery - BUT I miss the joy of the moment.
  • A quiet introvert and find noise distracting:  a crowded room with lively chatter, music playing in the background, and a bunch of strangers is my personal hell.  I struggle to focus on one conversation, which makes me even more self-conscious, and 'unfriendly'...BUT I am really an ambivert as I am extroverted, engaging, and the consummate professional at work. 
  • Able to recall unreasonably detailed and accurate encounters and facts BUT simultaneously lack complete recollection of some things (most of my childhood and teen years) 
  • Unable to focus on one thing, while being hyper-aware of everything around me, BUT other times I hyper-focus on one thing and ignore everything around me.  
  • Exceedingly empathetic, off the charts in Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and Cultural Intelligence (CQ) scores, and can clearly see group dynamics at a meta level, BUT can be obtuse to immediate social cues. 
  • A razer-sharp thinker and can synthesize astonishing amounts of information at lightning speed, BUT am also a very literal thinker; I fall for every joking or sarcastic comment as I react so quickly.
  • A quick-witted speaker and very animated when I discuss a topic for which I am impassioned, BUT when the filter is off, I blurt out comments which often comes across as impertinence.
  • Affected by a tendency toward low self-esteem and have a very select group of close friends BUT am described as an engaging and dynamic powerhouse.

As an adult, I learned ways to manage according to the way I process information:  such simple approaches that I had to figure out on my own.  I developed a workaround to reading comprehension (I read the questions first) and though I was unaware at the time, honed an ability to commit information to memory, often surprising myself.  I am particularly good at numerical sequences, which came in handy when I joined the military in communications.  I learn best visually reinforced auditorily; if you find me in my office, I am usually processing out loud.


I usually can’t focus on one piece because I see every piece of the puzzle

I hate puzzles.  With my ADHD comes the ability to see everything at the same time; where I can’t focus on one piece but can see every piece of the puzzle all at the same time.  As a child, this shut me down; it made me hate myself for not being like the others.  My self-esteem was inextricably linked to my “not living up to my potential”, and obvious “laziness” when I couldn’t focus and complete puzzles or pages of homework.  As an adult, (when I remember not to berate myself), I have turned it to my advantage and am recognized for synthesizing vast amounts of information into actionable plans.  Like many people with ADHD, I found my niche and work in an extremely regulated environment:  I work in a high-reliability organization (HRO) and lead Swift Starting Action Teams (STAT’s).  I am recognized by my supervisors, peers, and direct reports for my knowledge, culturally intelligent leadership style, and the ability to manage and diffuse critical incidents.


ADHD facts:

  • Women and girls with ADHD are less prone to hyperactivity and more inclined towards 'Inattentive'-ness. This manifests as an inability to focus on one thing while being hyper-aware of everything around you.
  • ADHD is inherited – studies on females with ADHD show that in 80% of the cases, either a parent or child showed signs (it was previously believed that ADHD only affected boys, therefore most older studies did not include females).
  • ADHD is often accompanied by a learning disability (LD)
  • There is now a consensus that hormones affect and increase existing symptoms in women



A few years ago, I became a Certified Executive Coach, completing a graduate program at Royal Roads University. The course relied heavily on intuition, empathy, Emotional Intelligence (EQ), and the ability to interpret information analytically.  I recall writing my final paper and outlining minute by minute my inability to sit down to complete the task.  I recorded each time I was distracted and got up from the table, and what had drawn me away. I didn’t, however, record the hyper-focus when I finally did settle into the task and could not leave the table until the paper was written, edited, edited, edited, edited, edited… and edited.  I went on to complete a Master of Arts in Leadership.  I did not disclose my challenge with processing information, as I neither feel I ‘suffer from’ nor ‘am I a victim of’ ADHD.  Big mistake.  Huge.  I excelled when we studied EQ and CQ and struggled with formulaic essays – which made me second-guess my so-called intelligence.  I should have disclosed how I processed information and identified my particular needs.  I hope I remember this when I someday pursue my goal of a Doctorate in Leadership! 


So why start Moving Forces - Forces Mobiles?

I am always asked:  why start another company?  Moving Forces - Forces Mobiles is the culmination of my ability to facilitate for others; I created a platform to identify, address, and assist those within our community and help us help each other.  I can do it quietly and around the clock in the background - check out the time stamps on some of my emails - and when I choose, I can step into the light, present, discuss, and analyze how we can best move forward together.  ... And then go home and sit on the dock... and that's ok too!  That fills my tank.  Tonya


P.S.  Today I am hyper-focused... and write, rewrite, edit, edit, edit, edit, adjust, and generally review this blog for the millionth time. 


Moving Forces - Keep your life moving

Forces Mobiles - Allez de l'avant