Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic condition that is often detected in childhood and continues through adulthood. According to the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, the disorder is diagnosed at roughly twice the rate in boys as it is in girls. But research shows that this may be because the disorder often presents differently in girls, with less emphasis on the person's ability to sit still and more of the organizational challenges and mood shifts they face as a result of their differences.
In his Mind Matters series, Carson Daly shares powerful mental health stories — and now he's shining a light on a disorder that has, until very recently, gone largely undiagnosed in girls and women.
"Most girls aren't physically running around the classroom turning flips or things that get you noticed by the teacher," says Dr. Loucresie Rupert, a psychiatrist who was diagnosed with ADHD when she was in medical school. And while being messy, disorganized or lacking focus can be a distraction, often it's not enough of a red flag for parents or teachers to identify that a girl needs help.
Rupert said she knew something was wrong but initially resisted seeking treatment for herself, afraid of the stigma that she was looking for an easy way through school.
Many women, like Sarah Fuller, who was diagnosed with ADHD at age 33, struggled with issues during childhood. When she learned about the symptoms including trouble staying organized, having a messy desk and room and outbursts of anger, a lightbulb went off.
When asked by Daly is she had ever been diagnosed with a mental disorder as a child, Fuller said she recently learned she was told she had oppositional defiant disorder, a diagnosis she now thinks was incorrect.
"I was a royal terror at home," she now admits, saying her parents didn't know what to do with her. Fuller resisted going to therapy and continued to struggle through high school and college. Now, an English professor at a community college, she recalls being kicked out of AP English because though her test scores were high, she couldn't keep herself motivated and organized. In college, a roommate even asked her to move out. "My half of the room was a pigsty," she says, recalling a lifelong pattern of messiness.
"I knew something was different about me," she told Daly. "Like, this seems easier for other people."
Fuller explained how different ADHD can be for girls and women, saying that it's not always a lack of attention they suffer from, but rather the challenge to focus on the right things. Unfinished projects in her home are a testimony to her struggles, for example, a wall she had a spark of motivation to paint, but which has been in limbo for a couple of years.
Medication, along with organizational systems such as using agendas along with timers to complete specific tasks has helped her to cope with ADHD and even thrive as a professor.
When it comes to home organization, using clear storage containers and grouping similar items together has allowed her to keep order and avoid buying multiples of things she already owns.
Her YouTube channel, The ADHD Academic, is a way for her to share her systems and her journey with others.
"Sometimes people don't realize you can have something like ADHD and still be successful in an academic realm," she says.
Social media has been another way for those with ADHD to find a sense of community and belonging. Videos with the hashtag #ADHD have over 9.6 billion views and ones with the tag #AdultADHD have over 172 million views.
Cate Osborn was diagnosed at 29 when another medical issue brought about hormonal changes that no longer let her ADHD fly "under the radar." Her TikTok account, Catieosaurus, has over 1.5 million followers. She started creating content about ADHD first as a joke in response to content she felt didn't accurately represent her experience with the disorder.
For example, her video, "Things that make sense in my ADHD household" includes a pile of boxes that had been sitting on her floor for a week.
"Frankly, I started creating content because I got mad," she said. "It was like, I'm not a seven-year-old boy. I have two master's degrees. There has to be somebody out there like me."
René Brooks' blog, "Black Girl Lost Keys," was one of the first on the subject to gain traction. Now the ADHD coach and writer has a Facebook support group for people of color to talk about their experiences.
"It's really humbling and I feel like I was able to free up a lot of people who felt like they were on the outskirts," Brooks said. "They can come into a place where they can be their full self without feeling like they have to check an identity at the door."
Fuller said that the challenges of ADHD can be helped with therapy and medication but that it's not accessible to everyone and that she hopes there will be more of a focus on the importance of mental health.
She said that life with ADHD is a constantly evolving process of finding strategies that work, and reevaluating when they no longer serve their purpose. It's also about recognizing the upside of her differences.
"For me, the biggest positive of ADHD is that it makes me good at my job," she said. "I am constantly coming up with new and creative ideas for my classes. I don't let anything get stagnant. I think it is my personality."
She said she doesn't know who she'd be without ADHD. "I just need to embrace the good and do my best to manage the parts that make my life more challenging."
If you or a loved one are struggling with ADHD, or think you might have symptoms, be sure to check out the resources available online.