No matter who you are, having your period is distracting, but for girls with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dealing with ADHD and periods can be especially difficult. Dealing with cramps, managing mood swings and remembering to change your tampon or pad regularly (or to bring tampons at all), are all things that require attentional bandwidth — something girls with ADHD often don’t have to spare.
Your daughter’s period may arrive like clockwork, but that doesn’t mean you should assume she’ll be prepared when it does. Here’s how parents can help.
Forgetting things is one of the major difficulties of living with ADHD, and it always seems the more important the thing, the more likely it is to be forgotten. Help your daughter avoid unnecessary stress by making sure she has what she needs for her period whenever and wherever it arrives.
- Buy ahead. Don’t wait for that time of the month to buy sanitary products. Stock up on pads or tampons by buying in bulk, and ask her to make a note if she starts to run low.
- Stock locker and bags. Having supplies at home won’t help if she forgets them when it’s time for school or practice. Encourage your daughter to keep extra pads or tampons in her locker, and to keep some stashed in any bag she carries regularly — not just her backpack. That way she’ll be prepared no matter where she is (and she’ll avoid those mattress-sized pads the school nurse gives out).
- Set reminders. Remembering to change her pad or tampon is often a big challenge for girls with ADHD. Phones with vibrating alarms are a great way to avoid an accident. Setting a regular reminder will help her stay on top of things during the day.
- Double up at night. An extra layer of protection will mean she’s less likely to wake up to a mess, which makes for less stress, less laundry and a smoother morning all around.
Girls with ADHD often struggle to manage their emotions at the best of times, so the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome can be even more challenging than the period itself. “For girls with ADHD, the ups and downs of PMS sometimes hit harder,” explains Dr. Mandi Silverman. “It’s distracting, and if a girl already has difficulty regulating her emotions, it can feel really overwhelming.” Unfortunately, for a lot of girls PMS is a fact of life. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be a monthly terror.
Premenstrual syndrome is different for everyone. Some girls may feel like they’re on a hormonal roller-coaster one month and be fine the next; others may have the same symptoms every month no matter what.
“The best way to help your daughter deal with the unwelcome feelings caused by PMS is to help her be prepared,” says Dr. Silverman. Keeping track of her symptoms for a few months can help isolate outside factors. For some girls getting more sleep, eating differently or exercising more can help mitigate some of the symptoms. “Have her chart how her period impacts her over three cycles,” says Dr. Silverman. “Once your daughter begins to understand how her cycle affects her she’ll be able to make helpful changes where she can be more prepared for things — like lack of concentration or moodiness — that consistently cause problems.” For example:
- If her period makes it even more difficult to concentrate during class, you could agree that she’ll record the lectures that week and plan to revisit them when she’s feeling more clear-headed.
- If she feels better during months when she’s getting more exercise, try adding more physical activities to her schedule. If she’s less miserable when she gets more sleep suggest trying an earlier bedtime for a week.
- Getting a head start on papers or projects that are due during or right after her period will help her reduce stress — and make it more likely she’ll get them in on time.
- If PMS makes her feel exhausted or over-emotional, suggest that she take a break from making plans with friends for those few days each month. That way she’ll be able to get some rest and avoid potentially difficult social situations until she’s feeling better again.
Some girls find that their ADHD medications don’t work as well during their period. If you notice that PMS and period symptoms are making it harder for your daughter to cope with her ADHD, make an appointment for the two of you to talk with her doctor about the pros and cons of adjusting her medication during her cycle.
Talk it through
Menstruating is a natural, necessary part of life for women, but the stigma around periods is still going strong. From boys who cringe at the word “tampon” to commercials that seem embarrassed to show the product they’re advertising, girls often get the message that their period is something to be ashamed of. And girls with ADHD, who are often struggling to fit in socially, may be extra-sensitive to potential embarrassment. Talking frankly and comfortably about menstruation with your daughter will help her develop a healthier, more confident attitude when it comes to her body.
Figure out what works and stick with it
In the end, the goal should be to help your daughter find a routine that makes managing her period become second nature. Girls with ADHD may face challenges, but with the right planning and a little practice periods don’t need to be one of them.