For 23 years everyone in Matilda Boseley’s life missed the warning signs that she had ADHD, including herself.
“I just thought that I was forgetful or clumsy, or just sort of didn’t have it together to the same degree that everyone else did,” Matilda said.
Like a lot of us, Matilda, who’s a reporter for The Guardian and host of the Old Boys Club podcast, has spent a lot of time on TikTok.
She’s had it long enough that the app’s ‘For You Page’ recognises what she likes and dislikes, and only serves up content she’s likely to watch and engage with.
TikTok’s algorithm started showing her videos about people with the neurodevelopmental disorder ADHD, which stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
“There’s a lot of content on there from creators who have ADHD themselves, and sort of talk about how it manifests in everyday adult life,” Matilda said.
“What was especially important for me was that there were a lot of adult women talking about it.”
Matilda said she started seeing content about how ADHD negatively impacts your executive functions.
These are the mental processes that help people self-regulate and do stuff like organising themselves and remembering things, focusing on tasks and keeping their emotions in-check.
“It’s essentially the sort of inability to do something, even though you desperately really want to do it,” Matilda said.
“I just assumed that I was lazy, because it’s sort of like, no, I really want to be able to, get this cleaning done, I really want to be able to send all these emails, I really want to be able to put the systems in place to just get my life in order. But there’s something in me that I just can’t do it.”
The relief of a diagnosis
Matilda said she related to the videos so much that she decided to talk to her GP about it, who in turn referred her to a specialist.
“He basically looked at the results and said you definitely have ADHD [and] I think you’ve had it since you were a kid,” she said.
“I remember just bursting into tears on the Zoom call because of that.”
Matilda said they were tears of relief after a lifetime of not understanding why everyone else was “better at being human” than she was.
“It was just such a relief to be like, no, there’s a chemical reason in your brain you’re failing this whole time,” she said.
Matilda said she’d also begun taking ADHD medication, which has helped her.
“The biggest thing was sort of going about my work, and then looking down after half an hour and realizing that I wasn’t tapping my leg, which is just something that never happens to me at any point in life,” she said.
“That was a sort of stark moment of wow, it actually does make a difference.”
Ignorance about ADHD
According to Dr Patrick Concannon there is a lot of undiagnosed ADHD. 2.5 per cent of the adult population would fit the criteria for ADHD, and currently 0.1 per cent are being treated as adults.
Dr Concannon’s been a paediatrician for 40 years specialising in ADHD, and he’s on the board of ADHD Australia.
He said medical professionals were getting better at recognising how ADHD presents differently in people beyond the stereotype of a young boy.
“They’re hyperactive or impulsive, they have short attention spans, they can have emotional learning problems, and that’s the presentation that is the classic one,” he said.
“We now know that there’s a large group of people who have a slightly different ADHD … we call it the inattentive variety.”
Dr Concannon said for a long time, girls who had this inattentive kind of ADHD fell through the cracks, and like Matilda, they might not find out for years.
“They usually don’t present with behavior problems initially, at least, but they present with difficulties with learning, difficulties with organisation time management, they have trouble maintaining and developing motivation,” he said.
“They can then of course, with this sense of negative self image, they’ll often then start to see themselves as failures.”
Self-diagnosis on TikTok
While learning about ADHD from TikTok can be empowering and informative, it could also mean impressionable people might end up in rabbit holes and misdiagnose themselves.
“There’s a sort of a question about what responsibility social media sites have when it comes to this sort of information,” Matilda said.
‘It would be really, really easy for someone to convince themselves that this is something that applies to them.
But Dr Concannon isn’t as worried about this trend on Tiktok. He sees it as a great tool for awareness, as long as people take it offline and get professional advice.
“These days, the reality is that it can be productive,” he said.
“It’s good [that] self diagnosis can get you to the point of seeking formal assistance… the important thing is you don’t self manage.”