Individuals living with neurodiversity may learn differently or act differently in social settings.

They possess a unique set of challenges, perspectives and struggles, but also talents and strengths.

When I was young, I had ADHD, but it was not diagnosed until I was 25 years old. Growing up, I knew something was different in me, but my family and teachers thought my behavior and actions were my fault. I missed out on a lot of happy childhood memories, and it took me years to overcome the emotional trauma I experienced because no one suspected my brain was not functioning in its expected way.

Neurodivergence is a non-medical term that describes the unique way a person’s brain works. Like a fingerprint, no two brains are the same. Individuals living with neurodiversity may learn differently or act differently in social settings. They possess a unique set of challenges, perspectives and struggles, but also talents and strengths.

People who are neurodivergent typically have one or more of these conditions: Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), Down syndrome, Dyslexia, social anxiety, or mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Unfortunately, neurodivergence in girls and women often is undetected, undiagnosed and underreported because they don’t display the same obvious, stereotypical traits that boys and men do. Traditionally, in a classroom setting, for example, when boys are loud, disruptive and inattentive, teachers may suspect they have ADHD. Girls tend to internalize these traits, and their condition goes unnoticed and unsupported. They understand societal and cultural expectations and become good at masking the signs, and the problem.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), boys are about four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and about twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. In addition, girls are diagnosed with ADHD much later in life, normally in their 30s or 40s, compared to boys who tend to receive diagnoses around age 7.

A missed diagnosis in girls can lead to issues with self-identity and self-esteem. Eating disorders, self-medicating, isolation, increased anxiety or depression, mood swings and unconscious self-sabotage are common signals there is a problem.

As women get older, their undiagnosed condition can disrupt their activities of daily living, they may continue to struggle educationally because their style of learning is different, they may have trouble finding and keeping a job, and their social cues and communication skills may not “fit” with the norm. Maintaining meaningful and sustainable relationships will seem like an insurmountable obstacle, and they will continue to face these challenges every day, not knowing what to do.

What can women do?

  • First, don’t self-diagnose. Reading TikTok messages or other social media posts to determine if you are a neurodivergent female will only confuse you more.
  • Talk with your healthcare provider. A trained professional can help you or direct you to a specialist who can. With such a wide range of conditions under the umbrella of neurodivergence, it is important to seek help and support from an expert in the field.
  • Find your strengths and focus on those. Neurodivergent individuals often excel in online spaces where verbal communication, eye contact and facial expressions don’t exist.
  • Look for a support group where neurodivergent people gather to exchange information, talk about their experiences and struggles, and offer advice and resources to each other.
  • Seek mental health help from a therapist who specializes in neurodivergent issues.

What can parents do?

  • First, look for signs before diagnosing on your own. Is your daughter daydreaming too much and too often? Is she having trouble listening more than usual? Is she forgetting homework assignments regularly? Are her organizational skills worsening? Is she hiding out in her bedroom most of the time?
  • If you find your daughter is exhibiting some of these neurodivergent signs, talk with her about it non-judgmentally, ask questions, and listen. Suggest and encourage her to talk with a professional she feel comfortable with.

What can teachers do?

  • Look for the patterns and behaviors noted in this article.
  • Discuss your concerns with the parents and come armed with some helpful resources.
  • Educate yourself on the subject so you can detect this issue sooner than later.

What can friends do?

  • Listen, and continue to listen. Your neurodivergent friend may feel misunderstood and left out. Let her know you hear them and will support them.
  • Communicate with your friend in ways that show your concern and support. If she prefers texting, emails or phone calls, communicate in the way she chooses.
  • Avoid using labels to describe her.
  • Don’t assume she is unintelligent or incapable. Neurodivergent individuals have many often overlooked skills and strengths. Look for those and acknowledge them in her.
  • Treat your friend respectfully.

Neurodivergence is not preventable, but it is manageable. Behavioral therapy can help individuals focus on their strengths, adapt to their challenges and minimize interferences in their life.

If you find you are still stuck and need additional support, seek help from a mental health therapist who specializes in working with neurodivergence.

Did you know Anthony Hopkins lives with neurodivergence? And so does Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles. These accomplished historical figures also were neurodivergent: Marie Curie, Nobel Prize winning physicist; Albert Einstein, Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist; and artist Vincent Van Gogh.