INTERSECTION ALLEY: ADHD + WOMEN OF COLOR
This article originally appeared in the April 2022 edition of Inside Equal Access.
Written by Haifa Alsaab, Student Content Writer, Division of Information Technology
“Eventually you hit a wall academically or professionally, and then you need to address all of these layers of built-up failed coping strategies” said Leah Islam, a 28-year-old woman of color with ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). Leah was diagnosed with depression at age 13, but she was not evaluated for ADHD then. Mental illness stigma made her parents not support her in seeking mental healthcare. She had to wait until turning 21 to seek help personally. For late-diagnosed people with ADHD, seeking help usually comes after a personal struggle with depression and anxiety.
Eventually you hit a wall academically or professionally, and then you need to address all of these layers of built-up failed coping strategies” said Leah Islam, a 28-year-old woman of color with ADHD.
Ms. Tiffany Bui, a woman of color, was forgetful and distracted as a kid, and her family used to criticize her for that. In the fall of 2020 at age 21, she was struggling with depression and decided to seek mental help at her university clinic. Her doctor asked her if she thought she might have ADHD.
The doctor’s question marked the moment that Ms. Bui started her journey in learning about ADHD. ‘Wow, no one’s ever talked to me about this before,’ said Ms. Bui. One day, she saw social media posts created by women describing their experiences with ADHD. Those posts rang a bell and were truly relatable to her. Ms Bui started reading more about ADHD and then she saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with inattentive ADHD.
These stories are common among women of color. Research shows that the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD tends to be limited to certain demographics. In the US, white boys are the most diagnosed. However, women and people of color tend to be overlooked in ADHD diagnosis and treatment. After years of struggle, many women and people of color are only now learning that they may have ADHD.
Insufficient awareness and/or social biases are usually the reasons behind late diagnosis. Recently, social media platforms/hashtags have been used as a visibility and education tool for ADHD.
In her article ‘No One’s Ever Talked to Me About This Before’, Nicole Clark writes on how social media has helped unnoticed social groups learn more about ADHD. Recently, she’s found webcomics, videos, newsletters, blogs, and memes written by people with ADHD. They share their experiences with ADHD diagnosis and treatment, which raises awareness about ADHD symptoms and lead to possible diagnoses and/or treatment.
Content on social media that relates to ADHD also promotes understanding and reduces the social pressure on people with ADHD. For some, this content helps identify how people with ADHD have felt different. Without diagnosis or treatment, many feel isolated for years. According to Dr. Courtney Pflieger, a psychologist who has ADHD, “people with the disorder often experience negative feedback as adults.” They doubt that there is something wrong with them. According to some research, some young women diagnosed with ADHD as kids showed marked harm 10 years after their diagnoses.
Social media also helps adults with ADHD to advocate for their evaluations, which could be complicated due to the complex nature of the condition. Ms. Idowu shared her experience with ADHD diagnostic process in her newsletter "Adulting With ADHD". It was not straightforward as she did not get diagnosed with ADHD in her initial evaluation. She needed to learn how to report her symptoms more accurately to get a proper diagnosis. Some subscribers to her newsletter said that reading her story helped them to gain an understanding of how to carefully report their symptoms and avoid any potential misdiagnosis.
For more information, check out some of these accounts that are dedicated to ADHD awareness. Check out some webcomics on ADHD Alien Twitter account, or videos on Dani Donovan’s TikTok, or some articles on Rach Idowu’s newsletter Adulting with ADHD. Dr Edward Hallowell’s (psychiatrist) Twitter account provides valuable expert content for people with ADHD. René Brooks share her personal experience and techniques to deal with daily ADHD-related challenges on her blog Black Girl Lost Keys.