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How Girls with ADHD are Different

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Did you know that girls can have ADHD? Read on to learn about girls with ADHD and what to do if you suspect a girl in your life has ADHD.

ADHD is a condition where boys have trouble sitting still. Everyone knows this. But what you might not know is that even shy, quiet girls are just as likely to have ADHD as rowdy boys. For years, researchers thought ADHD could only affect boys and was extremely rare in girls.

Today, boys are diagnosed at four times the rate of girls, but some researchers theorize that girls are just as likely to have ADHD (at the rate of about 1 in 10 or 1 in 8), but can hide some of the most obvious symptoms, making it harder for them to receive an official diagnosis.

Read on to learn a little more about how ADHD affects girls, and why it is just as important for girls to receive treatment for ADHD as boys.

Why Are Girls Overlooked?

If a girl is diagnosed at all with ADHD, it is usually much later than boys. Girls, on average, are only diagnosed after the age of 8-12, when the differences between a girl with ADHD and a girl without becoming more obvious. Boys, on the other hand, are often diagnosed before their fifth birthday. Many girls are not diagnosed with ADHD until adulthood, or ever, even if they exhibit all the signs of ADHD.

The trouble starts, researchers theorize, with the basic biological differences between boys and girls. Girls are usually hyperactive in a different way than boys. While some girls are just as likely to be active, run around, scream, and play as hard as boys, in the classroom setting, girls are more able to "turn off' their ADHD and appear as if they don't have a problem. While a boy might have trouble staying in his seat during class, a girl might simply just twirl her hair or talk incessantly. These are seen as normal habits of girls and are often unnoticed by teachers.

It is not until girls struggle in school (sometimes even at the college level) that their ADHD is recognized. Girls are also more likely to suffer from the inattention side of ADHD, where they have trouble focusing and paying attention, than boys. Teachers and caregivers are often looking for hyperactivity when they recommend ADHD evaluation and may miss the signs of inattention.

The Importance of Recognizing Girls with ADHD

ADHD carries the same risks for girls as it does for boys. Their schoolwork can suffer, they are at higher risk for substance abuse and risky behavior, and suffer from low-self esteem. A girl with ADHD has a higher risk of self-harm, depression, and suicide. An undiagnosed girl will likely have low self-esteem because she feels like she has to work so much harder than her peers to succeed. She may feel like a failure because she has trouble staying organized, staying focused, and remembering assignments.

Girls with ADHD are often also perfectionists, striving to look as though they have it all together even while struggling. A girl with ADHD may even be one of the best students in the class but suffer from extreme disorganization, stress, and procrastination problems behind-the-scenes. Undiagnosed, these problems will follow the girl into adulthood, where she becomes a woman with low self-esteem, relationship problems, career troubles, and substance abuse problems.

What Girls with ADHD Look Like

Girls with ADHD have many of the same symptoms as boys with ADHD, with a few key differences. Girls, for example, are far more likely to be diagnosed with co-morbid mood conditions, such as Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD), or even Bi-Polar disorder. Girls also struggle socially when they have ADHD.

Some studies have indicated that a girl with ADHD is more similar to a boy without ADHD, which can cause social problems from a young age. Girls with ADHD may have trouble understanding the social undertones that other girls have, making it difficult for them to develop healthy relationships with female peers. Girls are also more likely to show symptoms of anxiety and depression than boys with ADHD.

Girls exhibit some of the same symptoms as boys, but they often look just a little different. For example, a hyperactive girl might just earn the nickname "tomboy" instead of being recognized that the extra activity level stems from ADHD.

Girls, just like boys, can suffer from three types of ADHD:

  • Inattentive
  • Hyperactive
  • Combined

Some girls may be more inattentive, some might be more hyperactive, and many girls with ADHD exhibit symptoms of both kinds of ADHD. If you notice any of the following symptoms in your daughter (or other girls or women in your life), the girl may have ADHD. If a girl has more than half of the symptoms listed below, ask a qualified health professional or psychologist (ideally one who is familiar with ADHD in girls) for an official evaluation:

Symptoms of ADHD in Girls
  • Talks constantly
  • Has trouble remembering instruction
  • Daydreams
  • Laughs in strange places in conversation
  • Is disorganized
  • Has messy handwriting
  • Has frequent "obsessions" that can change from month to month or year to year
  • Constantly hums, talks, or makes some kind of sound
  • Has trouble sitting still
  • Fidgets (plays with hair, picks fingers, shifts in her seat, clicks a pen, etc)
  • Procrastinates
  • Loses things
  • Blurts out thoughts during someone else's conversation
  • Has a messy room
  • Often reprimanded for being silly
  • May hyperfocus on activities she loves
  • Is a perfectionist
  • Talks about a "mask" she wears for other people (usually, only older girls will mention this)
  • Gets upset easily
  • Has trouble sleeping or getting up in the morning
  • Never wants to go to bed
  • May have trouble maintaining friendships
  • Is easily offended
  • Does not think before acting
  • May binge on things (food, activities, shows she loves) and then lose all interest
  • Flits from hobby to hobby
  • Never seems to settle down
  • Always seems "out of it"
  • May have a poor memory

How to Treat ADHD in Girls

If you have received a diagnosis of ADHD for the girl in your life, the treatment options are the same for girls as they are for boys. You can try behavior therapy, medication, or lifestyle changes and supplements that will reduce the symptoms of ADHD naturally.


Stimulant medications are often prescribed for children with ADHD. These medications, although called stimulants, usually have a calming effect on the child.

Medications include amphetamine-based stimulants dextromethamphetamine, dexmethylphenidate, and methylphenidate.

Non-stimulant medications include: atomoxetine antidepressants


Many girls with ADHD benefit from behavior therapy. This helps the girl develop coping strategies that help her stay organized and focused and regulate her emotions. Psychotherapy, behavior therapy, family therapy, and support group therapy are all viable options for girls with ADHD. Research shows that a combination of behavior therapy with other treatment methods is better than simply medicating or taking supplements alone.

How to Help a Girl with ADHD

As a caregiver, it is important to show a girl with ADHD how she can take steps to manage the condition and make things easier on herself. These strategies can help a girl with ADHD succeed in school and prevent many common problems associated with the disorder:

  • Create a daily routine that doesn't change.
  • Keep important events at the same time or in the same order each day.
  • Make a place for everything that is easy-to-see and marked well.
  • Make space for shoes, clothing, backpacks, play items, school supplies, and homework papers. Older children should also have a place for keys and phones.
  • Help your daughter with strategies for taking notes.
  • Ask if she can take notes by computer or tablet rather than by hand, which might be too difficult to read later.
  • Keep things positive. Try to say only one negative thing for every 10 positive things.
  • Allow your daughter to express her creativity and activity in activities like sports, drawing, dance, or music lessons.

Girls with ADHD Are Often Lost

Even though we now know that girls can and do have ADHD, many teachers and caregivers are still unaware that girls can have the condition. After an official diagnosis, make sure all caregivers know your daughter has ADHD (regardless of if she is using medication to treat the condition). Schools are required to offer assistance to children with ADHD, and girls should be allowed to take advantage of those services when they need them. With the support of caregivers and the right treatment plan, girls with ADHD are just as likely to succeed as girls without ADHD.





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