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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

‘What’s wrong with me?’ Undiagnosed ADHD in Black girls

After being underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed in their childhood, Black women are going from overlooked to overcoming with new ADHD diagnoses in their adulthood

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Sheri Davis works from home with two computers in front of her. One screen showcases her online homework for her master’s degree program and the other is a large Zoom room filled with other Black women working.

The women have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), just like Davis, and as a part of a support group, they set up body double sessions – a self-help ADHD technique that keeps one accountable to task – to help them get through any work they need to get done.

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“Body doubling in the world of ADHD is when other people are active or in the same room as me even though we’re not interacting, and it helps me tackle and complete tasks that might be harder for me to get done alone,” said Davis.

“Some people with ADHD find it easier to stay focused on homework, or professional work, or even household chores when someone else is around to keep them company. So, this is our Sista’s Body Doubling Sessions. Knowing that there are other active people here with me helps.”

Undiagnosed ADHD in Black girls

ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that can affect kids from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. However, research from a 2021 Mayo Clinic-sponsored study suggests children of color may be less likely to receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment for the condition.

24-year-old Davis was diagnosed in college when one of her professors saw her struggling to organize her notes and assignments.

“He had a child who has ADHD, so he knew what to look out for. At first, I laughed him off, but then I took it seriously when I didn’t want to struggle anymore. It’s been a process to understand how my brain works, and I work with my brain to get things done. I wish I had known earlier,” said Davis.

The 2021 study also found that Black girls frequently go undiagnosed with ADHD due to misinterpretation of their symptoms.

With the intersectionality of discrimination based on race and gender, behaviors indicative of inattentiveness or impulsivity, both key characteristics of ADHD, may be inaccurately perceived as negative behaviors in Black girls.

36-year-old Channing Shavonn does not remember how she joined the same group as Davis, but she is glad she did.

Shavonn received her diagnosis over a year ago.

She had given birth and originally sought mental health help due to depression and anxiety from what she believed was postpartum.

“Hearing from a lot of Black women, I was hearing it goes untreated when they’re considered the smart girls. That was me. I was making good grades, but, meanwhile, internally, I’m struggling,” said Shavonn.

“My brain doesn’t turn off. I used to always daydream. It’s nonstop. I operate in patterns. I always had to be doing something. This is how I’ve always been, and nobody in school told me that I had it.”

Boys are more likely to be diagnosed than girls

According to the CDC, boys (13%) are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls (6%). Black (12%) and white (10%) children are more often diagnosed with ADHD than Hispanic (8%) or Asian (4%) children.

In school, Shavonn struggled with taking notes.

As an adult, her undiagnosed ADHD caused her to job-hop, create business ideas but fail to execute them and talk herself through hypothetical scenarios.

She would go to Panera Bread to do remote work for her current job. She did not realize that it was her way of getting work done through body doubling.

Hearing background sounds and movements from other patrons helped her concentrate more; however, she still struggled.

Once diagnosed with adult ADHD, Shavonn started therapy in March and was prescribed a low dose of Ritalin.

The day she went back to Panera Bread after starting treatment, she noticed a difference in her work.

“Before I knew it, I was done with it. I went to Panera Bread to get some work done, and I started crying. Cause I used to ask all the time, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ I could never finish one thing. If I had known when I was a kid, I wonder what type of life I would have had,” said Shavonn.

“Because of all of these narratives I had about myself, it’s been great because of the diagnosis. I’m not lazy or unmotivated. My brain just works differently.”

Shavonn said she knows Ritalin gets a “bad rep” but that it has helped her tremendously.
Davis decided to go the nonmedical route and wants other Black women and girls to know that option exists too.

More Black women are being diagnosed

Brain Balance Center in Plainfield is a drug-free program designed to help kids and adults with ADHD improve focus, behavior, social skills, anxiety and academic/work performance.

The executive director and co-owner of the center, Rhonda Zollner, said their integrative approach combines sensory, auditory, visual and physical exercises with nutritional guidance.

“Alternatives to medicine is always a good option because some families want to make changes vs. masking the problem,” said Zollner.

Davis said it is important for families and adults to be on top of advocating for little Black girls because she can only imagine where she would be if she did not have to struggle with being undiagnosed for so long.

“My mom just thought I was a little different and I just talked too much. I would talk a mile a minute as a kid. She just didn’t know, but now that we know as a generation, we have to save our little girls,” said Shavonn.

Zollner said if a child is struggling with attention, sitting still, impulsiveness, misplacing items and/or does not learn from past mistakes at the same rate as their peers, parents and families should seek help.

Contact staff writer Jade Jackson at (317) 762-7853. Follow her on Twitter @IAMJADEJACKSON

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