Despite improvements, there is still little recognition for girls with ADHD. From past research and poor diagnostic criteria focused on male behavior, many girls with ADHD are overshadowed by boys who receive more referrals for their traditional symptoms. Daydreaming, perceived shyness, and forgetfulness are a few signs in many girls with ADHD that go unnoticed. To push for more progress, learn how to recognize the signs of ADHD in girls and develop ways to support them.
What Is ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental or brain disorder diagnosed as one of three types; inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive, or combined. Each type presents different symptoms and is individual to the person, meaning their behaviors and patterns can vary.
While most children experience moments where they struggle to control their behaviors, and regulate their emotions, children with ADHD have behavior problems that disrupt their daily functioning. Disruptions include learning difficulties, trouble paying attention, and struggling to maintain friendships with classmates and or siblings. If left undiagnosed, some children with ADHD will continue to face additional challenges in adulthood.
How Is ADHD Different In Girls?
The difference between girls and boys with ADHD lies in the dangerous assumption that more typical symptoms are the same with all children. For example, most girls with ADHD have inattentive symptoms, which means they are more introverted, distracted, and withdrawn. Whereas many boys are physically restless and impulsive. This difference also exists in how the genders present hyperactive symptoms. For example, boys are more likely to disrupt the class, fidget with objects, and question authority, all of which lead to more teacher referrals. Girls tend to exhibit hyperactivity by talking continuously and are less likely to be recommended for an evaluation.
Instead of receiving help, many girls often face criticism and don’t receive a diagnosis until adulthood. This neglect leads to a host of further psychological challenges, including depression, anxiety, addiction, and low self-esteem.
ADHD In Girls: 22 Signs to Watch For
While the diagnostic criteria for ADHD are the same for all genders, females present different symptoms than males. Here are 22 signs to better understand how ADHD in girls is uniquely different.
- Struggles with rejection
- Appears to be unmotivated
- Poor time management
- Cries easily
- Sensory sensitivity (noises, scents, emotions)
- Easily frustrated
- Talks constantly but struggles to listen
- Easily distracted
- Appears withdrawn
- Often misunderstood
- Appears to make careless mistakes
- Completes tasks half-finished
- Struggles to maintain focus
- Interrupts others
- May struggle with authority
- Processes information at a slower pace
8 Ways to Help ADHD In Girls
1. Encourage friendships
Many girls with ADHD struggle to fit in and maintain friendships with classmates. Establish social gatherings that encourage independence and play to their strengths. If your daughter is introverted and loves music, find classes that prioritize creativity and acceptance. Enrolling her in afterschool activities individual to her needs will help her make like-minded friendships and make her feel less alone.
2. Build their self-esteem
Poor self-esteem is more apparent with ADHD in girls than boys, especially if left untreated and undiagnosed. And with the increased psychological vulnerability to depression, suicide, and self-harm in adulthood, young girls need emotional support. Encourage her strengths, preferred activities, and give her opportunities to discuss how she is feeling.
3. Manage your reactions
Determine your triggers, especially if your daughter’s behavior is problematic and is causing a poor chain of emotional events within you. Knowing your triggers will help you foster positive coping mechanisms that lead to healthier emotional responses for you and your daughter. Once you’re calm, discuss how the situation affected you and talk through logical consequences for her behavior.
4. Maintain a routine
Girls with ADHD need outlets to manage their emotions, interact with peers, and experience situations that highlight their abilities. When you understand their unique needs, create a routine that offers support in situations where they feel insecure. For example, if she is sensory sensitive, find clothes that make her feel more comfortable and encourage study sessions with minimal distractions. This consistency will provide emotional relief and build her self-esteem.
5. Normalize her experiences
Since more boys receive more attention with their ADHD patterns, it is common for girls to feel isolated. Normalize her experiences and condition by reaching out to parents who have daughters with ADHD. Having friendships with girls experiencing similar challenges will make her feel included and hopeful. Also, find books, articles, and other resources to learn together. This shared knowledge will strengthen your bond and normalize what she is going through.
6. Develop a study plan
Many girls with ADHD struggle to manage their time and complete their homework. Teach her how to organize her schoolwork, develop time management strategies such as using timers, and break assignments into less overwhelming steps. Creating a stable study plan that determines when, how, and where she completes her schoolwork will also help her build confidence.
7. Connect to her immediate environment
Teachers who misunderstand her condition would benefit from receiving a deeper awareness of the struggles your daughter faces, academically and socially. Discussing her challenges could also bridge a connection between experiencing less criticism at school and receiving more resources to foster her strengths and abilities.
8. Cognitive behavior therapy
ADHD in girls can lead to poor self-regulation, disorganization, procrastination, and inconsistent motivation. Receiving cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), a goal-oriented form of psychotherapy that aims to change negative thought patterns, creates higher self-esteem, happiness, and productivity.
By learning how to challenge negative thoughts, such as “I can’t do anything right” or “Everything has to be perfect to be acceptable”, girls will improve their beliefs about themselves, their abilities, and their future. Learning and understanding how they think at a young age can also prevent the emotional fallout of common psychological difficulties in adulthood.
The way forward is to increase your awareness and education to create healthy and positive attitudes about ADHD in girls. Reading this article is a positive step and a parental win for you and your daughter.