Understanding ADHD in Girls: Signs & Symptoms

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

ADHD affects both children and adults, but typically we hear it used in reference to boys more than girls. This lesson will explore the symptoms of ADHD with an emphasis on how girls are affected by the condition.

What Is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a brain disorder that causes a myriad of symptoms in both adults and children, including inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. There is evidence that ADHD affects both children and adults, males and females, but symptoms may vary in each individual. For example, one person may struggle with paying attention in class or at work, while another person does not have problems with attention, but instead struggles with physically sitting still. A third person may struggle with all three kinds of symptoms.

Symptoms of ADHD

We have already learned that the major symptoms of ADHD are grouped into three categories: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Let's take a look at each.

Inattentiveness

A person in this category may appear to be disorganized, forgetful, and easily distracted. Inattentiveness means someone struggles to stay on topic and may have a hard time paying attention to details.

Hyperactivity

Hyperactivity symptoms vary with age, but as the name suggests, the person experiences too much ('hyper') activity. Children may fidget and have a hard time sitting still or staying seated. They may run around, even when it is not appropriate, or they may have trouble entertaining themselves quietly. Children who show signs of hyperactivity may also have difficulty refraining from excessive talking.

As a child with ADHD gets older, these symptoms may shift into general restlessness and the inability to sit still for long periods.

Impulsivity

People who struggle with impulse control due to ADHD tend to appear impatient. They often interrupt other people and have a hard time waiting their turn, especially during conversation. Impulsivity may also lead a person to take unnecessary risks.

Symptoms in Girls

Up until recently, ADHD was a condition attributed more often to boys than to girls. This is partly because boys tend to be more hyperactive, which is a more visible symptom, while girls tend to struggle more with inattention. Whereas an 8-year old boy may be more prone to running around and fidgeting during class, an 8-year old girl is more likely to be daydreaming. The teacher notices the boy running around and talks to his parents, while no one picks up on the girl's daydreaming as easily and her ADHD goes undiagnosed.

With ADHD, girls tend to struggle with inattention problems like daydreaming.
daydreaming

Other girls with ADHD tend to get categorized into other groups before anyone thinks ADHD may be influencing their behavior. For example, a girl with hyperactivity may be classified as a tomboy, a girl with inattention may just be a daydreamer, and a girl who struggles with both inattentiveness and hyperactivity may come across as a 'chatty Kathy.'

Many girls are able to compensate for their symptoms, even though they realize things like schoolwork take them more effort than some of their classmates. Parents can keep an eye on their children's study habits to see if there may be underlying problems not being addressed.

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