My 20-Year Old Daughter Was Just Diagnosed With ADHD

It’s no secret that girls are under-diagnosed compared to boys when it comes to ADHD. I didn’t recognize my daughter’s symptoms. My twenty-year old daughter was just given an official diagnosis of ADHD. She says she’s known for a while that she has it, having done her own research.

I’m not wringing my hands with guilt, nor is she condemning me for never having her tested as a child, but I am doing a fair bit of reflection. I want to understand what I missed.

young adult woman
I want to understand what I missed by not having my daughter tested earlier for ADHD. ((Twenty20 @alesha_macarosha)

My daughter seemed like a model student at school

My daughter has always bounced through life with an excitement that’s contagious. She’s very funny, and the energy level rises in any room she enters. However, at school she seemed like a “model” student – meaning she paid attention in class and was not disruptive.

In school, she did well. Her report cards generally showed As, Bs, and the occasional C. She took Honors- and AP-level classes in high school, cheered with the Cheer team, and practiced several hours per week with her club gymnastics team.

Maintaining that level of achievement cost her a lot, however. She would work for hours on homework that her classmates finished in twenty minutes. She would get extra help after school, study her color-coded notes for hours, and still do poorly on tests compared to her peers. It was tough on her self-esteem.

My daughter should have been tested for ADHD earlier

In hindsight, these facts seem to make it obvious that she should have been tested. At the time, however, it wasn’t so simple. At no point did a single teacher, in grades Pre-K through 12, suggest to us that she had problems staying focused.

She was like a duck gliding smoothly through the water, but under the surface where no one could see, her feet were paddling a mile a minute. Additionally, there seemed to be alternate explanations for just about all of her symptoms.

For example, her interest in reading waned around the age of twelve – when the books got longer and more complex. However, that’s also around the time she got an iPad, and then an iPhone. We assumed that chatting with friends and developing an interest in social media were natural results of becoming a teenager, and that she would return to reading when she got older.

She spent hours and hours on homework. We thought her school was assigning too much work. Looking back now, I realize that she was struggling with the close reading and comprehension that her coursework demanded. The social media breaks that she took were actually much-needed “breathers” from intensive, frustrating work that her brain wasn’t wired for. In retrospect, I should have compared notes with the parents of her friends, but we had moved to a new town and I didn’t know many other parents.

I assumed her anxiety was similar to mine

She struggled with anxiety; having had my own struggles, perhaps I was too quick to assume that she’d simply inherited my genetics. When she did poorly on tests, we thought that she had test-taking anxiety, which contributed to her not thinking clearly, misinterpreting directions, and so on. We addressed the anxiety, but the attention issues never came to light.

Trying to maintain her grades, she didn’t get enough sleep at night, so she was often tired during the day and would fall asleep on the couch, or in the car as I drove her to practice. She was emotional and impulsive, overreacting to minor setbacks like a spilled drink, a lost inhaler, or a sudden change of plans. You need to get to bed earlier, we’d tell her. When you’re overtired, your emotions get the better of you.

My daughter is doing well now

Because she kept a lot of lists, and kept her room and her things organized, she never seemed disorganized to me. These were anxious coping mechanisms that she developed so she wouldn’t miss deadlines or lose things.

My daughter is a junior in college now, majoring in Graphic Design and Communications and maintaining Dean’s List grades semester after semester. She’s a gifted artist who can draw human hands like no one else I know. She’s found her niche.

I asked her if I could write about her experience. Thinking it might help some other girl whose parents read the article, she said okay.

Parents of daughters, does any of this sound familiar?

  • Does your child make impulsive choices, or get more upset about setbacks than seems reasonable?
  • Can she maintain solid friendships, or do her relationships tend to be volatile?
  • Does she get decent grades, but take longer to complete her work?
  • Is she disorganized, frequently losing belongings, missing deadlines, or forgetting important things?“

I wish I’d known,” my daughter says now. “I would have felt better about seeing all my classmates finish their homework during lunch, and do better on tests than me. My teachers would have understood how to help me if I’d been able to tell them I had ADHD.”

More on ADHD In Girls/Women:

ADHD in Women and Girls: Why Female Symptoms Slip Through Diagnostic Cracks

More Reading:

Paving His Own Path: A Mom Reflects on Raising a Son with Inattentive ADHD

About Theresa Lussier

Theresa Lussier is a freelance writer, crafting technical as well as creative content, with a particular interest in parenting and elder care issues. She lives in New England with her husband, two high-energy dogs, and sometimes - when they are home from school - her two "newly flown" children. 

Read more posts by Theresa

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.