09 Mar Unmasking ADHD in Women: Insights and Inspiration from Dr. Samantha Hiew’s Presentation
Did you know that in 2019-2021, women who took online ADHD tests increased by 3200%? We do know by now that ADHD conditions present differently in girls and women, and as a result, girls often fly under the radar with ADHD symptoms, with only one girl being diagnosed for every ten boys.
Dr. Samantha Hiew is a storyteller with a medical science Ph.D., specializing in demystifying ADHD & neurodiversity in the U.K. She founded ADHD Girls in 2020 before she was diagnosed with ADHD at 40 and identifies as autistic, dyspraxic, and Touretter. She is passionate about reframing the medical labels given to neurodivergence, where we see each individual as more than their diagnosis. She has spoken at over 40 organizations and hosts the Utopia podcast, where she uncovers hidden stories of neurodivergence across culture, race, high achievers, parenting, and learning disability. Her work has received multiple nominations for Stereotype Buster and Community Choice Awards at the 2022 Celebrating Neurodiversity Awards.
I was eager to attend her virtual presentation from the UK on ADHD and Women: Misunderstood, Misdiagnosed & Moving Forward for Change on Seeds Talk, a new talks series connecting top thinkers with audiences around the UK. Dr, Hiew presented how females with ADHD are misdiagnosed and misunderstood.
She was soft-spoken, chose her words carefully, and delivered thoughtfully as she discussed important topics for adults with ADHD, getting diagnosed later in life, and insights from the Conversations with Women with ADHD campaign. She is committed to studying why females with ADHD present differently to males – including the popular notion of ‘masking,’ the effort to camouflage ADHD symptoms or behaviors to “fit in.” She examines the ADHD profile at the neurobiology level and emphasizes collective healing with internal communication (self-acceptance and compassion) and external communication (self-advocacy).
During this presentation, I was reminded once again why I committed years ago wanting to becoming a Certified Professional Life Coach. When I found the program aligned with my values and goals with Academy for Coaching Excellence founder Dr. Maria Nemeth, I knew this would be a part of my purpose in life. My focus as a Life Coach is to support others to rediscover who they are and what they desire to have in their lives. This was to become more than a learning specialist and educational consultant, as the impact on my client and students’ lives is beyond the classroom or submission of a college application. Dr. Hiew’s presentation reflected my life’s work and experiences.
Dr. Hiew’s approach to medication and meditation for ADHD treatment and best management is an important message for all ages and stages in life. Further, she highlights consistency with routines and schedules to reduce stress, as sleep, exercise, and nutritious food affect our stress levels and hormonal health across the lifespan. The impact (how we perceive pain from rejection) of stress and hormones (adolescence and menopause) on a female brain with ADHD increases symptoms significantly. One of the many reasons females are diagnosed later in life is in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s because of hormones impacting brain function, and ADHD symptoms increase under these conditions. As girls are more mature than boys and learn quickly how to ‘mask’ in society, they’re not as identifiable as their peer-aged males. And, further, the nervous system how critical it is to our functioning as we feel before we think, and ADHD impacts a person’s experience because of inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsivity.
Dr. Hiew shares with her audience that ADHD in teens becomes more apparent as academic demands and social interactions increase, and so does the mental cognitive load for ADHDers. When learning becomes more complex, demands on executive functioning skills (i.e., working memory, cognitive flexibility, shifting, processing) also increase with gaps that create frustration, shame, and rejection sensitivity. This is when teens become identifiable, often having meltdowns, shutdowns, doubling down, or becoming class clowns. In addition, by age 12, females have already had 20,000 negative messages about who they are and should be from the world. Unsurprisingly, girls with ADHD are likelier to be bullied in school and cultivate fewer friendships than their peers. Dr. Hiew explains that girls with ADHD also face higher co-occurrence with a diagnosis of autism at 70% – she calls it “ADHD’s Sister Neurodivergence.”
Dr. Hiew’s presentation inspired me as she was focused on how to create your own “ADHD Owner’s Manual” and how to move forward with self-acceptance, compassion, and implementing positive change. As professionals, we have much in common; her message focused on one’s strengths, which will fulfill us. Dr. Hiew could not be more precise when speaking about a lifestyle: “We need support from one stage of life to another.”
I have always been passionate about my role in supporting my clients’ journey. From working with a 7th grader building upon her social reading cues and skills for personal and peer success, from supporting an 11th grader to research accommodations and student support services at the universities on their college list, and from the role as a Certified Professional Life Coach. As a Life Coach, I support a person’s journey with tools and strategies to make life easier and to reach their most desired outcomes; that’s where I fit in.