ADHD in girls and women is often difficult to detect. For many years, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was thought to be a condition experienced solely by boys. While boys are more likely to be given an ADHD diagnosis, it’s not because girls are necessarily at lower risk for the disorder. They just sometimes exhibit symptoms that don’t adhere to the traditional ideas and images people historically have about ADHD.  This makes them less likely to be referred for mental health services as well.1

Girls with ADHD

When thinking of ADHD, many people imagine a child who can’t sit still and acts impulsively, blurting out answers in class or interrupting their parents. But many girls with ADHD may be sitting quietly, seemingly daydreaming and struggling to finish a task or organize their lives. These subtler symptoms make the disorder often go unnoticed, with many females not receiving an official diagnosis until they reach adulthood.

Other common signs of ADHD in girls can include:2

  • Wandering thoughts
  • Trouble finishing projects and schoolwork
  • Being late often
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • A disorganized room or workspace
  • Getting upset easily

Girls and women can also exhibit symptoms of hyperactivity of impulsivity. Girls with ADHD can be highly physically active, taking risks as they play, or they might be extremely talkative, excitable, and emotional. 40% of girls, however, will outgrow symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity by the time they reach adulthood.3

Risk for Co-occurring Disorders

Many girls with ADHD may feel capable of managing symptoms when they are in elementary school, but the extracurricular, social, and increased academic demands of middle school and high school may cause them to struggle. Girls also may be more likely to blame themselves for their symptoms, labeling themselves as incapable of doing well or being “stupid.” This inward focus puts them at higher risk for major depression, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders than girls who do not have ADHD. One study found that girls with combined-type ADHD (having symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity) are at high risk for suicide and self-harm.4

Women with ADHD

Many women are first diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood, and they may seek treatment because they struggle to manage the demands of work, home, and daily life. They struggle with executive functioning and to complete tasks that require organization, planning, and time management. Struggling to keep up, they put themselves at risk for depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, sleep problems, and overeating.5

In addition to medication, females with ADHD can also benefit from therapeutic interventions such as building self-esteem, promoting healthy habits, learning time management, and practicing stress-management techniques. Family therapy can help educate family members about the diagnosis and teach them to problem-solve together and communicate better. Peer support groups can also help women feel less shame about their symptoms and feel empowered to gain control over their daily lives and futures.6

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Action Steps

Ask for Help – ADHD is highly treatable in both men and women of all ages, with medication, behavioral therapy, or a combination of the two often combatting symptoms very effectively. Don’t be discouraged if the first medication or intervention isn’t an exact fit (for you or your daughter), and keep talking to your doctor or a mental health professional about concerns and successes. Be sure to tell the doctor about other medical conditions and mental health history to help guide medication and therapy recommendations. 

Praise Progress – Take the time to notice progress and improvement in your daughter’s daily life, no matter how small. Being able to see setbacks as functions of the condition rather than a personal failing and to take pride in successes can lower the risk of depression and help your child gain a stronger sense of control over their health and their future. Starting treatment in childhood can have a huge impact on future outcomes and functioning, so practice optimism about the condition.

Know Your Rights – If your school-age child is severely impacted by her ADHD, she may qualify for an Individualized Education Program (IEP), or a 504 Plan, and extra educational supports. Even if a child does not qualify, talk to school staff about how teachers, school counselors, and other staff can support your daughter as she prepares to thrive in an academic environment. School personnel may also subscribe to stereotypes about ADHD and need education about what symptoms they should monitor in your child’s daily performance.

Find Mentors – All of us, and especially children, can benefit from examples of people who have overcome challenges or adversity. If you know a woman or teenager who has successfully managed the symptoms of her ADHD, considering asking them to connect with your daughter. Being able to visualize success can encourage her progress and decrease the risk of low self-esteem or negative labeling.

 

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Last Updated: May 15, 2018