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  • Writer's pictureMichael Lenz

Unveiling ADHD in Women and Girls

I was fortunate to interview the very esteemed Dr. Ellen Littman. For over 30 years, she has carved a niche in clinical psychology by specializing in the understanding of neurodiverse brains. Educated at Brown, Yale, Long Island University, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Dr. Littman has continuously stood at the forefront of her field. Her practice zeroes in on high IQ adolescents and adults within the neurodiverse population. She excels in identifying complex presentations of ADHD and autism that have often been misunderstood or missed altogether. The American Psychological Association hails her as a pioneer in recognizing gender differences in ADHD, specifically among women and girls. Dr. Littman's passion doesn’t stop at diagnostics. She also guides entrepreneurs, helping them harness neurodiverse traits to their advantage. Her practice incorporates individual psychotherapy and even extends to couples and family therapy, optimizing communication and empathy. She is also known for collaborating seamlessly with other clinicians. A prolific author and speaker, Dr. Littman co-authored "Understanding Girls with ADHD," first published in 1999, with a second edition following in 2015. She has contributed chapters to multiple seminal works, including "The Hidden Side of Adult ADHD," and "Gender Differences in ADHD," along with creating specialized training modules and video programs that offer continuing education credits.

A Journey Against the Grain

During our podcast, Dr. Littman shared her early experiences in clinical settings, which heavily focused on boys with ADHD. Over time, however, she noticed girls exhibiting similar behaviors. Unlike boys, these girls often presented their symptoms differently, engaging in subtle behaviors like pulling at their hair or picking at their fingernails. Standing firm in her observations that girls also have ADHD despite initial dismissals, Dr. Littman found herself challenging prevailing theories—even facing off against a keynote speaker who labeled girls with ADHD as "wannabes." It was during these challenging moments that she found allies in Patricia Quinn and Kathleen Nadeau, leading figures in the field of ADHD among women and girls. They invited her to write a groundbreaking book on the topic, solidifying her path.

Recognizing the Unseen

Years of dedication have brought Dr. Littman to a point where her works resonate globally. Whether it's clinicians reassessing years of diagnoses or individuals finding solace in identifying with her research, her impact is monumental. She notes how societal expectations contribute to the underdiagnosis of ADHD in girls and women, who often mask their symptoms due to shame and the need to conform. The stigma, particularly around ADHD in women and girls, extends beyond merely getting a diagnosis. Misdiagnosis is common, with women often receiving treatments for anxiety or depression due to their inattention symptoms not fitting traditional ADHD criteria. Unfortunately, many women succeed in compensating for their symptoms, making it even harder for clinicians to identify their struggles.

A Call to Awareness

We concluded the episode by highlighting the importance of awareness and acceptance within the medical community. While changes are slowly emerging, the battle against misconceptions and bias in diagnosing neurodiverse conditions, especially among women and girls, continues.

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