An algorithm decided these women have ADHD


Ebony Heins

Young people want credible medical information in places they can access and understand.

Rylee was at home at her university residence, waiting out Canberra’s first COVID lockdown. To ease the boredom, she downloaded TikTok, but what was meant to be an entertaining instead led to a life-changing event.

In the past two years, the #ADHDCheck, has gone viral on TikTok with over 580 million views. What started as a few users sharing their experiences with ADHD has grown into an international community working together to break down stereotypes and spread awareness.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive behaviours and is often associated with young boys. But 20-year-old Rylee says TikTok provided a more nuanced view of ADHD, which she could relate to.

“Seeing [ADHD symptoms] spelt out for me in TikToks was helpful, it was information I don’t think I would have sought out if it weren’t for TikTok,” Rylee said. “For some reason the algorithm decided I have it.”

Rylee wasn’t going through this alone. She says two of her close friends also ended up on ADHD-Tok and begun seeking professional support. It’s something Rylee says only happened because of the information they saw online.

‘It was a big relief to realise that [ADHD] is what I was experiencing, that it wasn’t just how I am as a person,” she said.

Professor Brenton Prosser, the Director of the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling at the University of Canberra, says that people with ADHD experience a range of symptoms, but that the media has presented a sensationalised version.

“For a long time, there has been a high rate of [ADHD] diagnosis among males,” Professor Prosser said. “I think we always have to factor in that ADHD is sociological, [meaning] it occurs on a social context.

“So, what is deemed to be a problem is informed by social expectations. Hyperactive boys draw attention to themselves.”

Professor Prosser says anything that enables young people and their families to get support is a good thing, and TikTok is providing this outlet.

“I think what’s happening now is there is better awareness of Inattentive ADHD and more targeted support for people. Which means that young women who might not have been diagnosed, now have more support and awareness.”

For 19-year-old University of Canberra student, Maddy, the short videos listing ADHD symptoms became a hyper fixation before her formal diagnosis.

“It was just something [to watch] while I was lying in bed, it was a coping mechanism to not be alone with my thoughts,” she said.

Working with children, Maddy says she sees ADHD a lot, but never in a way that resonated with her experience.

“I know [the symptoms] and I understand them, but I didn’t see myself fit into them,” she said.

Maddy says seeing them described in TikToks gave her the confidence to advocate for herself with doctors. After meeting with a psychiatrist, Maddy was diagnosed with ADHD, Borderline Personality Disorder, and complex PTSD.

“We [women] function in a different way to your typical ADHD, so, I never would have thought I had ADHD years ago when I presented with the same things I still do today,” Maddy said.

“Without the awareness, I wouldn’t have even questioned if I had it because I didn’t have the same stereotypical symptoms.”