ADHD and Late Diagnosis Grief

ADHD Grief Around Later Diagnosis

ADHD and Late Diagnosis Grief



ADHD Grief Around Later Diagnosis




What happens when a person is diagnosed with ADHD when they are 30, 40, 50 or even older?


It tends to be a double-sided coin.


On the one hand, you may feel immense relief and even happiness as suddenly things “finally make sense” or “click into place.” 


But on the other hand, “why the heck did no one notice and what might my life have been like if I had known earlier?”


The sudden collision of the “omg now things make sense” and the “what the actual heck mom/parents/teachers – you failed me!” can create a whopping pile of late diagnosis grief. And if we aren’t careful, we can get sucked in by that grief.


So let’s chat about why we are so often diagnosed later in life (especially women and those socialized as women), how that impacted us, and then how to move forward beyond the grief.



Why So Many Late Diagnosis?

Lack Of Information – The number one reason for so many late diagnosis in women, people of color, and other marginalized communitites is because originally all of the studies that were done on ADHD were done on little white boys.


This means all of the characteristics used to diagnosis ADHD were based on the behaviors of little white boys.  It was even believed for a time that girls didn’t get ADHD.  The belief was that most people “grew out” of ADHD and studies weren’t done on adults, females, or communities of color for quite some time.  It also means that all the research, all the education, and all the eventual resources were based on and given to young white boys.


The second biggest reason is shame and stigma.  Many parents simply did not believe in ADHD, and if they did, they felt shame about it. They did not want their children to be “different” or “labeled.”


They may not have wanted to give their child “an excuse.” Or they may have been misled by all the bogus information out there and think that their child is lazy, crazy, or stupid. They may have believed if they just parented “better” they could “fix” the behaviors.  They may have been given parenting advice that was well meaning but ineffective, thus making the parent feel even more shame when it didn’t work.


Finally, some of us found the ability to mask enough and cope enough to have a successful edcuation career the somehow disqualified us from having ADHD.  So as you can see, the reasons are many and varied.


How Late Diagnosis Impacts People

Every teen, and person, who has ADHD, struggles with some Executive Function Challenges. However, we all have areas of great strengths and weaknesses, and so none of these challenges are universally applicable to every ADHD teen. 

Here are some of the ways that teens with ADHD my struggle with Executive Functioning in ways that can impair the career exploration process.  Remember that with support and accommodations many teens with ADHD develop stronger skills in executive functioning skills with time and practice.

  • Misdiagnosis – Many people, again particularly women and girls – were diagnosed with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or other mood disorders incorrectly.  
  • Poor Self Esteem – Many people with ADHD grow up to have poor self esteem, poor self confidence, and often with rejection sensitivity dysphoria. This is due, in part, to the incredibly high amount of negative input they encounter throughout their day to day lives.
  • Mental Health Struggles – While many people are misdiagnosed with things like depression and anxiety, the reality is that they often do occur together with ADHD.  In my opinion, undiagnosed and untreaded ADHD definitely makes the path to depression and anxiety much hard to avoid.
  • Burnout – we may work so hard to do the things that come naturally to neurotypical people that we burn ourselves out with masking, developing coping skills, and pushing ourselves to be perfect.
  • Relationship Challenges – if one or more partners has undiagnosed or late diagnosed ADHD there are likely some additional challenges due to all of the other impacts we are chatting about.
  • Risky or Self Medicating Behavior – Poor self esteem and feeling like you are broken, or can’t do anything right – can lead to risky behavior and self medicating behavior like turning to alcohol, drugs, or other addictions.
  • Professional and Academic Struggles – Even students who were able to mask and cope through elementary, middle, and maybe even high school often get to college or out in the professional world and feel suddenly overwhelmed and struggle to keep up.




How To Move Foward

Here are some tips on how to move forward from a late diagnosis and the grief that can bring.  Please keep in mind that 

Build Your Support Network – Having a support network is possibly the most important thing about moving forward.  Your support network might include therapists, medical providers, medication providers, counselors, your partner(s), your best friend, other people with ADHD, your coach, your support group, or any one else who can be a support to you as you learn about your ADHD and let go of the grief.

Learn Coping Strategies– Learn how to work WITH your brain instead of against it by finding the coping strategies that actually work, and learn how to minimize or outsource the things that don’t.

Lower Your Mask– While learning coping skills is an important step – so to is learning to lower your mask. With your friends, your loved ones, your support network, and eventually if possible with everyone. Lower your mask just a little. We’ll chat about this in an upcoming blog – but lowering your mask a little is the only way for you to be your most authentic self.

Forgive– Try to forgive the people who “should have” known. Who “should have” caught this. That might be your parents, your teachers, your therapists, your doctors – and of course, it can mean yourself as well.  We all only know what we know when we know it and we do the best we can until we know better.  Forgive them. Forgive yourself.



Let’s Chat!

Book a free, no obligation discovery call with me and let’s chat about how we can partner together to step into a future free from this grief and full of possibility.


Book A Time To Talk Today

Kat Sweeney, MCLC


🌻Don’t Delay Joy🌻

Kat Sweeney, MCLC



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