(also dyslexia and autism)
But it’s still fashionable to talk about your struggles with ADHD, or your gifted-kid childhood traumas. These aren’t real tribes, though. They’re just shared victimhood labels”N. Rusell – Quillette 16/8/22 (here)
Feminists clearly do not feel they are getting a big enough slice of the victim-pie when it comes to the diagnosis of ADHD, autism, dyslexia and other neurodevelopment disorders. We are now seeing a slew of articles in the media from adult women claiming their ADHD, for example, was missed in childhood and that ADHD is underdiagnosed in women. For a few examples see below.
The Independent – The hidden ADHD tax is landing women like me in thousands of pounds of debt. Eleanor Noyce
The Independent – I am in the process of being diagnosed with ADHD – having medication in childhood would have changed my life. Robyn Wilder
The Independent – ADHD: How I got my sanity back. Natalie Wiles
The BBC – I’m 22 and I have just been diagnosed. – A mother has set up an autism and ADHD clinic because her daughter did not meet the criteria on the NHS
The BBC – Do I have ADHD? Kirsty Craib believes she has ADHD and has spent the last eight years trying to get assessed, without success.
The BBC – Three women share what life is like with ADHD – ‘They speak about why they believe ADHD isn’t taken as seriously in women and how it felt to receive their diagnosis.’
The BBC – Journalist Twiggy cried ‘tears of joy’ at ADHD diagnosis. ‘She opens up to the BBC about the impact the diagnosis has had on her, and why she thinks ADHD in women isn’t taken seriously.’
The BBC – Why women may wait decades for an ADHD diagnosis. Gender bias is leaving many women with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder undiagnosed, leading psychologists are warning. (Curiously, those leading experts are never named.
The Independent – I found out I was disabled at the age of 24 – and life has never been better. Learning who I am – an autistic, and therefore disabled, person – has been the most validating, freeing, and life-affirming realisation, writes Ellie Middleton
The Guardian – TikTok Accidentally detected my ADHD. For 23 years everyone missed the warning signs Matilda Bosely.
The Guardian – The lost girls: ‘Chaotic and curious, women with ADHD all have missed red flags that haunt us’ Noelle Faulkner. ‘After multiple burnouts, in my early 30s I finally knew why life sometimes felt harder for me. It made perfect sense, so why had no one noticed before’?
There are lots more like those, mostly mesplaining, articles.
There has been a massive upswing in ADHD diagnoses among adults and especially among women. In the US, for example, the adult incidence of ADHD rose by 123% between 2007 and 2016. One online pharmacy saw a 16% increase in prescriptions for a drug used for treating,ADHD in 12 months to 2022. This could, of course, mean that ADHD has been underdiagnosed historically and there is a long overdue corrective in progress, but I think it is more likely that something else is going on.
We have to remember that ADHD is on a spectrum and no test reliably dichotomises the population into ADHD and non-ADHD sufferers. It is a matter of opinion where you draw the line. Furthermore, if you look at the diagnostic features they are things we all experience from time to time and they are a part of normal life. Looking at the features that are listed below, I could easily convince myself that I have ADHD.
- Difficulty focusing on or paying attention to tasks
- Struggling to manage time effectively
- Mood swings or difficulties managing feelings such as anger or frustration
- Easily distracted or unable to concentrate
- Difficulties with organisation
Another factor has been the rise of social media influencers promoting this disorder. Just look at the article in the Guardian, TikTok accidentally diagnosed my ADHD by Matilda Bosely. Matilda acknowledges that, in childhood, she didn’t have the signs normally associated with ADHD, she wasn’t disruptive or hyperactive in class and she didn’t fall behind at school. Matilda found a stream of TikTok videos from which she concluded she had ADHD. She paid $700 for a and came out with a diagnosis of ADHD. In her article Matilda, goes on to make the sweeping and unfounded claim that ‘women have been under-diagnosed with ADHD for decades.’ Matilda’s article is typical of this genre of self-absorbed writing.
TikTok videos tagged with #ADHD have been viewed over 11 billion times. Most of the content is authored by 20-somethings who identify as having the developmental disorder. A few professionals have tried to stem this tide of misinformation and warn against self-diagnosis but finding this material is like finding a needle in a haystack. A similar picture emerges on Twitter and YouTube.
This online problem is compounded by the fact that if you have enough money you can shop-around and get a diagnosis of ADHD. Not only that, but some people are setting up their own clinics to diagnose the condition. For example, the article that appeared in the BBC online on 16/08/22 ADHD clinic: ‘I’m 22 and I’ve just been diagnosed’ described how the mother of a supposed sufferer (who is so ‘impaired’ that she is studying for a masters degree in psychology) was setting up her own clinic ‘to diagnose and treat the condition.’ Clinics should not be set up to diagnose one condition but to provide an open minded assessment of putative neurodevelopment disorders.
Is ADHD underdiagnosed in women as many of these articles claim? We do not know, but I doubt it. The claim depends on what are described as ‘little known signs that occur in women.’ These signs are so little known that they do not appear in the DSM-5 and have not been validated. It seems to me that women are aggrieved that they are not getting a big enough slice of the ‘victim pie’ in the field of neurodevelopment disorders and are intent on doing something about it through social media and legacy media.
The appeals of an adult ADHD diagnosis should be obvious. Some people get a sense of belonging from their shared victimhood labels. Many of us like to amplify our achievements by arguing that they were achieved in the face of adversity and now, many young women can claim not only to have fought against an enemy – the patriarchy, they fought against a disability -ADHD. Unfortunately they are both imagined.
There are also social benefits to having an ADHD label. It can be used as an excuse for overspending and getting into debt, for example -see The hidden ADHD tax is landing women like me in thousands of pounds of debt by Eleanor Noyce. It can also provide a degree of exemption (though I do not see why) for failing to meet productivity targets or complete assignments on time.
Perhaps a more serious issue is that a diagnosis of ADHD is the route to receiving treatment with stimulant drugs such as amphetamines. Most people’s performance would improve, in the short term at least, when treated with this class of drugs. It could be argued that a diagnosis of ADHD is being procured to secure an unfair advantage. This has been a source of resentment among students who are sceptical of some of their peers who have acquired the label of ADHD to obtain treatment with performance boosting drugs in the run-up to exams. A form of cheating perhaps?
I think this social contagion has some way to run before people see sense. Perhaps a new fashionable illness will emerge to replace ADHD or perhaps harmful side effects from stimulant drugs will emerge and the same women will present themselves as victims of a diagnostic craze they fuelled*. Reading many of these stories makes me think the biggest handicap of some of the supposed ADHD sufferers is self-absorption.
* The day after a posted this the following article appeared in the Guardian. My adult ADHD drugs felt like a lifeline. Then came the scary side effects… – Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Two victimhoods for the price of one.