with Licensed Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist Dr. Melissa Shepard
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN
- Defining Neurodivergence
- Distinguishing Features of ADHD in women
- The Impact of ADHD on Parenting
- Strategies For Mothers Struggling With ADHD
Do you ever feel more disorganized and frazzled compared to other moms? Do you regularly forget things you know are important because of how much you hold in your mind? While these might sound typical of most mothers, major factors of ADHD that often go undiagnosed in women include forgetfulness, inattentiveness, distractibility, and disorganization. Dr. Melissa Shepard is going to help us understand what ADHD is and the impact it can have on our parenting.
“Essentially what the world considers typical, anyone who diverges from that would be considered divergent,” Dr. Shepard explained. “It just means we’re different from the typical brain, the ‘average’ person.”
Neurodivergence is a term that was first coined for people on the autism spectrum, but it’s come to include things like ADHD and dyslexia too. Dr. Shepard thinks other mental illnesses like bipolar and depression could also fit under this category.
An important thing to remember though is when we say, “Your brain is just different,” that doesn’t mean it’s not a struggle or that it isn’t something people need help with. Living in a world built for a brain that doesn’t work like yours is hard. Some neurodivergent people may be able to navigate on their own, but they’ve probably found coping skills. Lots of people will need help to function in a world designed for someone else.
“When you go undiagnosed for a very long time, you start to internalize things,” Dr. Shepard said. You may think you’re lazy or if you’re often late—because time management is something people with ADHD often struggle with—you might think you’re a jerk who doesn’t value other people’s time.
“It’s really not fair to say that stuff about yourself,” Dr. Shepard said. “Your brain is wired differently, but that doesn’t make you a failure.”
Distinguishing Features of ADHD in women
We’ll be using the terms “women” and “girls” today, because most of the research available is for people who self-identify as female. The three pillars of ADHD are impulsivity, inattentiveness, and hyperactivity. But symptoms tend to manifest themselves in three categories (inattentiveness, hyperactivity, or both). Of the three subsets of ADHD, women tend to fall into the inattentive category.
“We tend to have a delay in our diagnosis,” Dr. Shepard said. Part of this is because of referral bias. A lot of health care professionals think of ADHD as hyperactive young boys, and that’s who gets the referrals, but women are also socialized to hide ADHD better.
I struggled to learn in school when I was younger, because I was too busy socializing, daydreaming, and whatever else I could come up with. But this wasn’t a disruption to the classroom, so teachers tend not to refer ADHD girls for assessments. They may not even notice it.
The Impact of ADHD on Parenting
Before entering motherhood, we’re only responsible for regulating our own emotions and keeping up with our own car keys. As soon as we become parents, we have to regulate someone else’s emotions and get to keep up with a diaper bag full of random things a tiny human might need. Expanding the responsibility and mental load can really affect ADHD.
“We see the same thing with every major life transition,” Dr. Shepard said. “Going off to college, starting a first job can all be times where we lose some structure and add responsibilities, and the coping mechanisms we’ve built to deal with mild ADHD can fall apart.”
Many moms have been saddled with a lot of extra responsibilities during the pandemic and a lot of our coping methods have disappeared. “That added stress of momming during a pandemic is definitely a major contributor to why we’re having this conversation now, and so many people are realizing, ‘Oh, this is me,’” Dr. Shepard explained.
People with ADHD also tend to have sensory processing issues. Lights may seem brighter and noises seem louder. So, if you’re a mom at home with a toddler who has been screaming the Paw Patrol theme song at the top of their lungs for 10 minutes, that could easily become overstimulating and coupled with impulsivity you might find yourself yelling at your kids when you had no intention too.
“That’s the toxic combination of you’re just more sensitive than the average person plus you don’t have the filter an average person has, and moms especially beat themselves up about that,” Dr. Shepard explained. If you find yourself snapping when you don’t want to because of the overstimulation, the Managing Mommy Rage workshop offers coping strategies to help you with this.
Ironically, while ADHD individuals become overstimulated easily and don’t have the filter to deal with it, in some ways they require more stimulation. They get bored easily. “So, attention deficit disorder most of us agree is not the best name,” Dr. Shepard said. “Because it’s not necessarily that you have the lack of attention or the lack of ability to get the stimulation you need to focus. It’s more of a difficulty in regulating that.”
Strategies For Mothers Struggling With ADHD
“The first and most important thing is that we will tell ourselves we have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps,” Dr. Shepard said. “It is okay to get professional help. Getting professional help can be really life changing.”
Exercise helps too. “In some cases, it can be just as effective as medication,” Dr. Shepard said. Mindfulness meditation can be really helpful too. You don’t have to keep your mind still. You just notice your thoughts and try to bring your attention back when you start to feel it drift away.
Medications can be a great tool. “They’re going to help with the immediate symptoms of impulsivity or hyperactivity,” Dr. Shepard said. “It’s not a magic pill that fixes all of your problems, but it is another tool in your toolbox.”
Medications can’t do the coping for us, but it can help with some of the barriers or resistance to learning the skills. If you’re implementing all of the skills and not having success, it can be really helpful.
“There is help out there, and you’re doing a much better job than you realize,” Dr. Shepard said.
If you’re struggling with overstimulation, the Managing Mom Rage workshop is full of helpful tools!
Dr. Melissa Shepard is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist committed to crushing the stigma of mental health and helping people become the most fulfilled version of themselves. She completed medical school at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and psychiatry residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital. In her private practice she specializes in treating people with mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, OCD, trauma-related disorders, addiction and schizophrenia. Her mission is to provide unfiltered and accessible mental health education to the masses via a thriving social media community.