The Lost Generation: ADHD In Our Girls

Since I was young, my life has always been a bit of a mess. Physically, not metaphorically. I'm disorganized. I can't find anything, even if it is in my own hand. I was always the talkative and energetic one. Along with that, I never really understood society's boundaries the way others did, as I was always more of a tomboy and never understood how that could be considered "bad" or "odd". I wasn't afraid to run around outside with the boys, while the girls brushed their dolls' hairs. Though I never understood how to be organized, when to settle down, or how to do what I, as a young girl, was "supposed" to be doing, there was one thing that I knew for sure: I was the "different" kid.

As a preschooler, I had a very bad habit of getting up in the middle of a lesson and wandering off. It was such a bad habit, that they assigned an aide to stay by my side and make sure I didn't leave. Despite what a drastic disruption I was, teachers continued to tell my parents, "She'll be fine. She's smart, but she just is very social and a little bit disorganized. Elizabeth will learn how to sit like a lady". Fast-forward to fifth grade, and not too much had changed. I didn't wander around, as one would hope would happen by fifth-grade. I was very attentive in class and got straight A's. Yet, I was still overly-social, and had a hard time keeping my mouth shut and my desk neat. Parent-teacher conferences were always interesting. It was always like this; "Elizabeth is very bright! She just tends to talk to others too much, and tends to forget her homework".

Still, I knew I was different, and I became more and more conscious of this as I got older. I knew that everyone had a different personality, but why was I this different? I had a lot of self-esteem issues and would get frustrated with myself very easily. I felt that maybe I was just dumb and couldn't keep up with the other kids, but because my grades didn't say that, everyone assumed nothing was wrong. In fact, this made things harder, as I didn't know what specifically was not right or how to cope with it.

I got into eighth-grade and felt plain stupid at this point. I had hit a low in school, getting C's instead of A's. I felt that I couldn't change what was wrong with me and gave up on trying when I didn't even know exactly what was wrong. I had a record high of detentions, going from never getting a detention before to getting five that year. I even came to a point where I felt like I couldn't read anymore...wait, I couldn't read anymore? How does that even happen? Why is this happening now, and not when I was learning how to read?

Finally, I told my mom this and I was taken for some tests, to find that all this time I really had ADHD. It answered so many questions and left me with a huge sigh of relief. Still, I was left with one lingering question: why did it take so long to figure this out?

As I've grown, I've found that I'm not the only teenage girl/young woman who received this diagnosis at a much later age than most boys do. Many of these people also had very similar symptoms as I did; attentive, yet too social, unafraid, and very disorganized. This is completely the opposite of how a young lady is supposed to be, so many young girls internalize these problems as being a flaw. They don't see that maybe it's a disability, rather than a personal flaw. Many outsiders see these "flaws" as just "phases" as well. The tomboy behavior, the anxiety, the low self-esteem, and the overly-social personalities were all "just a phase that will be grown out of soon enough". It wasn't until there were academic problems that adult leaders began to feel that I needed help. The rest was just a "phase."

An estimated 50-70% of young girls are missing diagnoses, which is staggering. On top of that girls with ADHD are four times more likely to commit suicide and three times more likely to engage in self-harm. Yet, even with all of these statistics and risks, it's no wonder why girls and adolescents aren't diagnosed until a much later age. The most common symptoms are being messy and disorganized, being overly talkative, difficulty finishing tasks, stress, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. These are all of the things that are written off as "phases."

It's not until the person is academically struggling that anyone questions if it's due to an attention disorder. This is because of how we value things as a society: getting straight A's is the ultimate prize, while our mental health tends to take a back seat. Because of this, there tend to be many long-lasting effects that are overlooked until they start to affect our everyday lives. The grades can be fixed, but the low self-esteem will need to be built back up time and time again. The anxiety will take many steps of unraveling fear before it begins to dissipate.

So what do we do?

I think the best way to start is to know and recognize the symptoms ADHD in girls. It's extremely different from what it is typically in boys, which is the stereotypical hyperactive child whose mind wanders. Despite being the same problem in the brain, the symptoms are very different, yet the name "Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder" leads us to believe that the only symptoms of the disorder can be inattention and hyperactivity, which is not typical for girls. Teachers of middle school and high school girls should be on extra watch for these symptoms as well, since this is most often the age where they start to appear. Lastly, we can all stop saying that ADHD is just made up. This is especially harmful to girls who have gone through much of life feeling low self-esteem because of it. It also really limits the amount of people who are willing to reach out about it.

There are also some plusses to ADHD that some people should know. The good part about having a disorder is having a valid reason for all the stupid things we do because of a damaged prefrontal cortex. However, the best part is seeing someone completely sane do the exact same things, without a valid excuse. This is the great equalizer of God and his little gift for all us crazy people to enjoy.

Most importantly, people with ADHD see life completely differently. They feel life, sensing it all around them. This allows them to not just look right at what they see, but to look into the heart of matters and people. That's the greatest gift that ADHD not only gives to the diagnosed but to all of the lives that are touched by the person who is diagnosed, and that is the beautiful part of The Lost Generation, that I hope someday will be found so that all can feel the special gifts of these great people.

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