ADHD presents differently in girls

Our Fave Resources to Better Understand ADHD

My daughter has recently been diagnosed with ADHD. It presents differently in girls, so is often wrongly diagnosed as autism or bipolar disorder, which is crazy. Our family is confident that Isabella was properly diagnosed by a very capable team.

You can hear a story of misdiagnosed ADHD here:

(Being misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder made school very challenging for her.)

When Isabella got her diagnosis, I was confident I knew what ADHD is and how it presents…until I started reading about it and realized I was wrong. Isabella didn’t seem scattered or hyperactive. How does she have ADHD? Turns out her obsessive, perfectionist, anxious, over-emotional traits ARE ADHD, or a symptom of, and could have been recognized earlier! Wow.

ADHD means you have very little emotional regulation because your brain is working overtime to make correct connections, focus and get things done. It drops things that aren’t “important” – like not freaking out over every little thing- because it’s working so hard to be stable. Isabella used to panic over schedule changes, get unreasonably angry when her desk was unorganized, or make split-second decisions that could be dangerous (using a rolling chair to reach something high, for example).

Why does ADHD mess with emotions so much? A person with ADHD has trouble with serotonin levels, as touched on at this website:

” Drugs which increase availability of serotonin have been used to treat depression for years, because of its effects. Raising the level of serotonin in the brain seems to lessen the hyperactivity associated with ADHD by causing the dopamine levels and serotonin levels to reach a proper balance.  “

Thus, the symptoms of ADHD vary and can include anxiety, depression, or coping techniques like OCPD. This is how I understand it, and you can correct me if it doesn’t sound right to you, but I like to state it like this:

Having undiagnosed ADHD causes all these other issues like anxiety and OCPD because your body is trying to regulate. It’s like thinking you’re hungry when you’re thirsty. The body knows something isn’t right so it freaks out and thinks you need SOMETHING- but what? – which is why we eat when we just need to hydrate.

In the case of ADHD, your body feels something isn’t right, freaks out, and goes on high alert so thinks these other things will “fix it”- such as being in an anxious ‘fight or flight’ mode almost constantly, having everything set up “just so”, or focusing to the extreme. With the help of the right meds for you, in my opinion, (in most cases and if you’re comfortable with taking meds) and a bit of therapy, you can make your way through the unhealthy coping mechanisms your body has put in place. You can find healthier ways to cope and create manageable ways to deal with things.

Isabella and I found a helpful video about ADHD on YouTube by BBC Ideas that we thought explained ADHD (in women, especially) very well. The psychologist that explained ADHD to us described it as a leaky bathtub. You have a bathtub full of small holes and you’re trying to fill it but water keeps leaking out. So if the water is focus and thoughts, then that’s ADHD, which is frustrating, which leads to a breakdown in emotions and lack of energy. We understood the metaphor but it didn’t resonate.

In this video the woman describes it as having “8 brains and each one has 40 tabs open”. I love when she says that she could be doing something, which counts as ‘one tab open’ and then ‘another tab will open and i’ll just start thinking about something else and have to give it my full attention for 3 seconds’…but that happens WHILE the other ‘tab’ is ‘open’, aka while the first thing is still happening.

Here’s the video:

At just over 4 minutes long, it is short but informative.

It’s as if you’re on an important phone call but a dog starts barking and the neighbour’s car alarm goes off and your brain is trying to give full attention to each one at the same time, but that’s too much, so you feel overstimulated for a moment before your brain decides to give full attention to each one in turn, even if it shouldn’t.

Put another way, Isabella and I now call these distracting thoughts or inability to focus “squirrels”. One day, she hadn’t taken her meds because she forgot or thought she had already. I compared her inability to focus to Dug the dog on Up. If you haven’t seen the movie, shame on you, it’s amazing and you should! Haha. Whenever Dug talks, he is often distracted from his thoughts by thinking he hears a squirrel and will abruptly stop to yell “squirrel!!”

Dug has lots of ADHD moments, especially in this 1 min clip:

Dug, from UP

Now, when Isabella forgets her meds or has a bad day at school (if the classroom is too loud for her to focus properly or something), she comes home and says “Today was a struggle. Too many squirrels”. We love the metaphor we came up with and think it fits perfectly.

Other than these videos, we have found a few articles useful, so I’ll list them here:

That’s a lot to read, but check back here to read one article at a time. To find these, I did internet or Pinterest searches for hours and read article after article. These are the ones that stuck with me and seemed to explain it the best. I hope you find them just as useful.

Watch out for those squirrels! 🙂





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