ADD = BFF

March 24th, 2011

Yesterday I conducted a casual Facebook experiment that yielded startling results. I’d noticed for a while that a disproportionate number of my women friends — and my very closest, sister-from-another-mother friends at that — had been diagnosed with AD(H)D. Wondering what might be up with that, I posted on FB asking any women with ADD to “like” the post. Eight have liked it since last night. And none of them were even among the group I was thinking of. (There is yet a third group of women who haven’t responded, nor have they been diagnosed, but I certainly wonder about them.)

I can think of plenty of girlfriends who don’t have ADD, of course: Amazing Genius Science Girl doesn’t, nor do several of the Fabulous Bureaucrats or the Renaissance Lawyer, and I don’t think the Traveling Psychologist does either. But clearly AD(H)D is way, way overrepresented in my ladyposse.

What is up with that? This is sparking all kinds of questions, people. For starters:

1. What’s the interaction between gender and AD(H)D? Do the symptoms manifest differently? Are the rates significantly different? (One thing that seems odd is that I can’t generate a similar list of male friends or exes with ADD; if it’s the case that men have it at greater rates, that makes my distracted-girlfriend situation even more remarkable.)

2. What other traits go along with AD(H)D? Is there some common thread among all these women? Honestly, I can’t think of one offhand — they range from bubbly and extroverted “with a low delight threshold” (a self-description of one of them), to socially anxious and downbeat. Some are tomboys, some are conventionally feminine. They’re all verbal, bright, and funny, but not in a way that seems different than my other friends.

3. Why do they like me? Attraction goes both ways, after all. I don’t have AD(H)D in any shape or form, so it’s not like-likes-like. I think if anything, it might be that I tend to be good at keeping track of several lines of thought simultaneously: I can listen to you talk about French feminist theory or the latest Mark Bittman column while simultaneously keeping an eye on whether the barista has called your order yet and remembering to remind you to get tofu on the way home. And if I know that’s the deal with you, I don’t particularly mind doing it, either.

A friend of mine whose daughter has ADHD told me last week, interestingly, that she’d heard AD(H)D girls tended to get along better with boys than with other girls.

Speak to me, readers, of AD(H)D and gender and friendship! What books or articles on AD(H)D would you recommend? Do you have it, and if so, what qualities do you look for in friends who don’t? If your children have it, how do you see their relationships playing out? Have you ever noticed that you have an unusually large proportion of friends who have AD(H)D, or dyslexia, or autism spectrum disorder, or what have you, and what did you make of that? If you have AD(H)D, how do you feel your experiences with it differ from those of the opposite sex?

UPDATE: It occurs to me that one of the reasons I don’t have many AD(H)D male friends is that I automatically go into a keeping-track, environment-scanning, caretaking mode with folks who aren’t as organized as I am. (Suppressing this tendency takes more energy than giving in to it.) Doing this kind of emotional/cognitive work for women friends makes me feel competent and loving, but doing it for men makes me feel either like a subordinate Girl Friday or worse, a bossy nanny.


14 Responses to “ADD = BFF”

  1. Lauren on March 24, 2011 1:53 pm

    I’m noticing that males are more likely to feel stigmatized by the diagnosis, and are therefore less likely to seek treatment for it or even admit to possibly having it.

  2. Bill on March 24, 2011 4:34 pm

    I’m sorry, what were you saying?

  3. veronica on March 24, 2011 5:22 pm

    my old boss probably had ADD (along with some other things that could easily explain his symptoms). I swear my ex had it…

    Although I myself am a brilliant but lazy, scattered genius type. My room and cars are disaster zones, which I always plan on cleaning, start cleaning, and then never finish. Or if I do finish it’s because I’m stressed or anxious and cleaning relieves the anxiety.

    I do find that I get along better with men than women…whatever that means.

    I also think most humans have attention deficits…I’ve walked away from the computer while chatting with someone online many a time.

  4. Molly on March 24, 2011 11:26 pm

    Hm, now that you mention it, when I was growing up, most of my posse was boys. I never understood “girl games” (and I don’t mean jumprope and foursquare), so hanging out with boys was much easier.

    I hadn’t thought of it like this before, but one indicator of ADD is trouble with social skills. It’s not that we necessarily can’t read social skills in the way that some people on the autism spectrum can’t, but we tend to be too distracted to remember to read them.

    If I’m seeking someone out for a particular reason, I often have to remind myself to engage in the social niceties, like saying hello, before jumping directly to what I want. It’s not that I don’t know how social interaction works, and it’s not that I don’t care how the other person is; it’s that I’m either hyperfocused or I’m afraid I’m going to forget what I’m there for. Or both.

    And I still have trouble not interrupting, for much the same reasons.

    So, in order to successfully navigate certain circles of girls or women, one needs to be able to pick up on all kinds of subtle social nuances that a person with ADD is going to miss. Males don’t usually worry so much about such nuances.

    As for why we like you, I’m sure the caretaking aspect is part of it, especially since you’re subtle about it (e.g., thank you for catching my violin that I didn’t notice was tipping over). Also, and I mentioned this elsewhere, you’re INTERESTING, so talking with you fills a need in our understimulated brains. You’re like human Adderall!

    Uh…that was intended to be a compliment.

  5. Julie on March 25, 2011 9:11 am

    I have not been officially diagnosed, but my oldest daughter was after struggling all the way through the lower grades and into HS. The apple does not fall far from the tree, in her habits and symptoms. The nurse clnician that we consulted said many many adults would have been diagnosed but most come up with compensating habits as they mature into adulthood to deal with issues such as the lack of focus (or hyperfocus Molly which I never gave a lot of thought about!).

    I too was more comfortable as a teen and young adult with males rather than females, but I always attributed that to the fact that everyone in my school was bitchy. :) Interestingly I have married a very manly man (appearance wise and mechanically inclined wise) who in any social gather can be found in a group of women not men. I wonder what that says about him? Or me?

    My friends are generally more type A ultra organized planners which I surely am not. I am fiercly independent and so any inclination on their part to “help” gets met with a very smiley “No thanks, all good” type response, sometimes even when I am drowning in my own stress mess and could use the help. ADD and stubborn? Yikes…

  6. Jodi on March 25, 2011 9:45 am

    You ask about whether the symptoms of AD(H)D manifest differently in women versus men. The answer, specifically WRT ADHD, is yes. When I was first diagnosed, I laughed at the psychologist who was giving me the results, because I am decidedly UNhyper.

    In women, rather than showing up as hyperactivity, the “H” is more accurately described as impulsive: even if you rationally know that something is a dumb move, you’re going to do it.

    As to why those with AD(H)D are drawn to you, here would be my theory. For those with AD(H)D, friendships where we aren’t judged because our houses are messy, we don’t always “bother” to read social cues (so can make some pretty big faux pas), and we can lose conversation threads because we’re already on to the next one are worth their weight in gold. Many women make sport of bringing other women down, and so it’s difficult for women with AD9H)D to be friends with this type of woman. I would guess you’re not.

  7. veronica on March 25, 2011 10:05 am

    Molly I understand 10000000000000000 percent what you’re saying. You can cut to the chase and be blunt with men, but with women it usually requires the precision of a neurosurgeon. Cut too deep and you’ve crippled yourself or someone FOREVER or at least a very long time.

    I think my brilliant but lazy attitude makes me unwilling to learn the dynamics of interacting with a group of women. I like meeting my girlfriends one on one, but never more than 2 or 3 at a time. The social hierarchy is too difficult to navigate…whereas with men as long as I can explain why I think it’s a bad idea to go for the 2 point conversion or go for it on 4th and 1 at this point in the football game, I’m fine.

    I guess I can pay attention to detail I find useful, the other night when my bartender turned the TVs on to watch March Madness I asked him if he had it on the HD channel. He said yes and then realized I was right, because it wasn’t on the HD channel.

    It is ironic that I work in social services, which is a field dominated by women, but until recently I worked in an environment with mostly male clients (veterans housing). Translation: I had great relationships with my clients…but not so great with upper management.

  8. Robin on March 25, 2011 10:46 am

    Some of these later comments are making me realize that I have a blunt and fairly task-focused communication style, and despite my job as a social-behavior expert, I really don’t like social game-playing at all. I tend to be honest to a fault, and if I’m trying to get a problem solved or a project off the ground, I often forget to manage people’s egos or feelings in the process. (Nor do I expect my own feelings to be catered to in a work situation–if I feel the need for a congratulatory pat on the back or to have my boss take me out for coffee, I’ll ask for it directly.)

    Also, I’m a hypochondriac and prone to getting emo at times. I’m actually more comfortable with a friend who I know is likely to flake out on occasion or call me when we have plans and say, “I’m too overwhelmed by life to go out tonight.” Because those people give me permission to be my own flaky self, who sometimes has a stomach ache and sometimes has sinus and sometimes is just too sad to go outdoors and play.

    One major caveat to my love of magpie girls: I can’t live with them. I need a lot of order in my physical and temporal environment.

  9. Molly on March 25, 2011 11:44 pm

    I’m loving the phrase “magpie girls”.

  10. Katie on March 28, 2011 2:18 pm

    I’m new here and don’t know if my post will get read (I’m a few days late I see), but I am an adult woman with ADD and wanted to add my voice (I post under AlpineYuzu on your other blog).

    Most of my friendships are with women, but I am much more comfortable with my friends that communicate directly/bluntly. I love my friends that will tell me honestly that they see I put a little weight on; it doesn’t hurt my feelings, but makes me feel close enough with me to tell me these things. And when I have something to say to them, I don’t have to worry about hinting at it indirectly so as not to offend. I also know my direct-communicator friends will feel comfortable saying no to me if I ask for a favor they can’t perform.

    Also, I could never be friends with someone who is always early for things and feels offended by people who show up late. I really have to struggle to be on time for things, and it is no reflection on the person I am meeting. I value my friends’ times, and given the choice, I’d rather be the one to arrive first for a lunch (feeling guilty about being late is so much worse to me than waiting a few minutes for my friend to arrive!). Unfortunately, what I wish I would do so rarely ends up being what I actually do…. the story of my life!

  11. Katie on March 28, 2011 2:22 pm

    sorry for the typos above…. in the worst case, I meant to say “lets me know they feel close enough with me to tell me these things”

  12. marie on March 30, 2011 9:48 pm

    I sort of want to know what it is like from the other side–i.e., what it is like not to have it? How do you know you don’t? Because I always feel like I don’t know where the line is between boredom and inattention, e.g., or between distraction and just not paying attention. And so when people ask me, I’m not sure what they are actually asking.

    I think part of it is that I generalized from my own behavior–I thought everybody lost their phone in their pocket, e.g.–so I imagine it’s possible that I gravitate towards people I consider particularly stable, thinking of them as people who have developed awesome skills. Plus, I find them calming.

    This wasn’t really obvious to me at all until fairly recently. I read a book–Driven (from? into?) Distraction–that suggested cutting out gluten, sugar, food coloring, and taking up running. Running is the big one: if I don’t run every day, I don’t function as well. It sometimes gets to the point where i see someone is talking to me and I just can’t figure out how to listen and respond. So, running it is. Gluten, sugar (food coloring doesn’t really come up much for me)–definitely it helps to cut both, only, that is more about refining than day-to-day managing.

    I’d love to know more about gender/adhd. I was listening to someone (male) talk about his experience of adhd recently and I identified with his story so much more than i would have expected. The issue for me maybe is that there is a pretty obvious gap between the sort of girl I was raised to be and the sort of person I am. Which means, I guess, that I was so interested in his story because it made me feel more confident about my own chances for success–I could learn from him.

    That’s my rambling answer! :) The short answer is that I like people who are stable and fairly predictable to me–people who, I might say, always seem to be themselves. I think this is what I want to be, myself, and I find it appealing, in friends.

  13. Robin on March 31, 2011 1:06 pm

    Katie, I had to learn a long time ago not to take it personally when people are late. I still find it annoying, but it’s one of those traits that I can usually engineer my way around–e.g., I bring magazines if I’m meeting people in a coffee shop or bar; I’m hard-hearted about leaving your ticket with the box office and going in and getting my own seat while there’s still time; when I have people over for dinner I either make simmering one-pot dishes or stir-fries that can be prepped in advance and cooked once the guests arrive.

    Marie, what is it like NOT to have AD(H)D? Hmm. I think it’s like having a computer on which you can run a few different programs simultaneously without having them crash. I can usually keep track of the big picture and the details at the same time. Does that make sense?

  14. marie on April 3, 2011 12:55 am

    That does make sense, thanks! It’s an interesting comparison–functioning like a computer. I’ve been reading some recent research on comm & it’s fun to experiment with how I communicate with people who are more expressive or more analytical. :)

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