October feels like a new start to many. It is usually a time where your child is getting into the swing of their back to school routine and the change of leaves feels like a final goodbye to the summer months. While nothing was normal about those summer months this year, and this October is still unusual, it does feel refreshing to open your windows and allow in some fresh autumn air. It is a special month for many reasons, but we at PA Parent and Family Alliance love it particularly because of how much awareness it brings to topics that are so important to the mental health of children. Last week our blog celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month which began in the middle of September and spans until October 15th. On top of that October brings awareness to ADHD, dyslexia, and bullying. ADHD, dyslexia, and bullying can all have a major impact on a child's mental health and we want to use our blogs this month to be a part of the awareness that is brought to these topics.
We also are excited about this month because we turn 3 at the end of October! For two years we have been inspired by the strengths and stories of parents raising children with social, emotional, behavior, and mental health challenges. All month long we want to celebrate the reason why we are here, you; the parents, primary caregivers, social service professionals, and community members that care so deeply about children, youth and young adults' mental health. Thank you for making our first 2 years so wonderful! We cannot wait to see what year 3 has in store. To properly thank you we have jammed packed our calendar full of events that you won't want to miss. Check out our Upcoming Events page to see what webinars we are offering throughout October.
To kick off our birthday month on our blog we want to highlight how ADHD can impact a child's mental health, particularly in girls and women. Last October our blog featured two articles to bring awareness to ADHD; ADHD, What You Need to Know, and ADHD Awareness Month; The Story of a Father with ADHD Who Wishes he Sought a Diagnosis Earlier. In the first article, we touched on the fact that ADHD is often very different for girls than it is for boys. According to ADDitudemagazine.com; ADHD in girls often goes underdiagnosed and is misunderstood because many of the signs and symptoms that girls display are "drowned out by the loud, hyperactive boys who demonstrate the condition’s stereotypical behavior." To further understand how ADHD impacts girls, particularly their mental health, we sat down with two women who were diagnosed with ADHD as children and are now college students.
We talked (virtually) with Shannon Carroll, an education student at Gwynedd Mercy University; and Erin Rooney a business administration student at Montgomery County Community College. Both of these women are in their early 20's and were both diagnosed with ADHD earlier in their lives. Carroll was diagnosed in 2013 when she was a junior in high school, and Rooney was diagnosed much earlier at the age of 7. These women have had very different experiences with their ADHD and its impacts on their mental health but now as they are both in the final semesters of completing their degrees they have reflected on how it impacted them as a child and student, and how things changed for them after getting a diagnosis.
"It was incredibly draining honestly. I had bad grades and felt like I was never succeeding. I felt a lot of times like I was a failure. It had a huge impact on my schoolwork and subsequently my mental health." said Carroll about how her ADHD impacted her before her diagnosis. This is very common for young girls who have ADHD to not be diagnosed until later in their educational career, or even their life. Many don't exhibit the behaviors that people associate with ADHD. According to ADDitude.com some common signs and symptoms for ADHD in girls and women include:
daydreaming quietly in class
feeling anxious or sad
exhibiting silliness or apparent ditziness
acting shy or inattentive
trouble maintaining friendships
picking at cuticles or skin
being a perfectionist
Rooney on the other hand had a radically different experience with ADHD. "I was very wild in school, I just couldn't control myself. I couldn't pay attention at all. I couldn't calm down for class. I was so bored and couldn't sit and focus. I was also very talkative and just wanted to interact with my classmates; not focus on the lesson." She remembers it having a major impact on her mental health because much like Carroll she wondered what was wrong with her. She would start a task and rarely ever finish it because she would be distracted by something else. "It made me think I was stupid, even at such a young age. I thought something was wrong with me." Rooney's parents sought out a therapist for her at the age of 7 after one day in CCD class she stood on the table and began to throw crayons at her classmates while singing the song Hot Blooded at the top of her lungs. This goes to show that signs and symptoms of ADHD not only can be different for girls but are also different for each individual child that has it.
Because Carroll and Rooney were diagnosed at such different stages of their lives their experiences differed but one thing that was present for both of them was a feeling of embarrassment before, and after getting diagnosed with ADHD. Before getting that diagnosis they were embarrassed by the fact that they didn't think they were like other students, and felt as though they were "stupid" and after their diagnosis, they were both embarrassed by the fact that they got "extra attention" from their teachers."I thought there was something wrong with me. I had to go to counseling and none of my friends were doing it. Now that I am older I see how many people I know also have ADHD and that there is nothing wrong with me. As I have matured I have gotten better control of it and have developed ways to help myself focus," said Rooney.
Carroll was older than Rooney when diagnosed, but also experienced embarrassment at school. "I have an auditory tracking disorder and an eye-tracking disorder too. My parents had me see a specialist and a therapist. I still see a therapist. I was embarrassed in school when they would pull me out of class for individual attention," said Carroll. While she did have an initial feeling of embarrassment she mentioned that she did see a sharp increase in her grades after her diagnosis. She also mentioned that her teachers were incredibly accommodating and she was able to take a majority of her tests orally. The thing that helped her grades jump from 2.4 to 3.4 was getting prescribed the medication, Vyvanse. While her grades skyrocketed her mental health took a sharp turn downward. "I was on it for 6 months and it made me really depressed. I had no social life, I isolated myself from all of my friends and peers. My grades went up but I was not myself," said Carroll.
For more information on how closely ADHD and depression are often intertwined check out this article from ADDitude.com
Rooney also had a negative experience with medication when she was prescribed it at the age of 10 and stopped taking it because of rapid weight loss. Around the age of 20, she went back to a therapist and got a new prescription and it has been a much better experience this time around and it now helps her to better focus on work and her schoolwork.
Since March school and how education is being conducted have been much different for everyone. Both Carroll and Rooney have switched to distance learning and this has proven to be challenging for them to both transition to. "Having that in-person connection with my teachers helps my grades enormously," said Carroll. "I have had a really hard time focusing online because of all the distractions around me. I will be sitting there on my laptop in class and a text will come across my screen or I will start scrolling through social media on my phone," said Carroll. She said that one of her professors sends students to breakout groups often to break up some of the heavy lectures and help develop that relationship between peers and she has found that helpful. For Rooney finding a quiet and distraction-free environment has been the key to her distance learning success.
Carroll wants to be a teacher once she finishes school and when asked how her experience with having ADHD will impact her as an educator she said, "I think it gives me a perspective that not a lot of teachers have. I will be able to see myself in kids that are struggling or don't even know they are struggling and be someone who speaks up and advocates for them. I think it is a perspective that will help me a lot as a teacher."
If you or a young girl in your life has similar signs or symptoms discussed in this article consider reading more on the topic of ADHD in girls and women, and seeking professional guidance. If you are unsure about how to get started please reach out to our (free and confidential) Family Support Partners.