Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a mental health condition that is more prevalent in boys than girls. Because of this, many young girls – specifically those with inattentive symptoms and others – are often overlooked because of the influx of hyperactive boys who exhibit symptoms of the stereotypical behavior of ADHD (or ADD). ADHD that continues on unrecognized can contribute to years of low self-confidence and even psychological damage. Read on to learn how to identify ADHD in girls and women so you too can learn how to recognize the misunderstood and unrecognized symptoms of ADD or ADHD in girls for your daughter and future generations.
ADHD in Girls has a Low Diagnosis Rate
Nearly 35 years after the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders first included the condition “Attention Deficit Disorder,” psychologists and clinical therapists noted that the increasing awareness of the mental health disorder led to more girls being diagnosed with ADD when they are young. Despite this, the rate of girls to boys being diagnosed is at a rate of about 1 to 3. Some argue that it is only a matter of time before the rate for diagnoses is equal.
The rate for women diagnosed with the disorder compared to men however is 1 to 1. This might be explained by women having a certain variation of ADHD that lasts longer in females than it does males. This theory is still being researched.
It is known, however, that boys with ADHD often show more externalized symptoms. Boys are more likely than girls to demonstrate symptoms of impulsivity and hyperactivity. Girls are more often more internalized, having symptoms related to inattentiveness and low self-esteem. Despite this, several studies show that activity-related symptoms fade during adolescence, while those with problems related to attention and organizational skills often persist into adulthood.
Because girls with ADHD are more likely to display less noticeable symptoms, including less behavioral problems, the difficulties they struggle with are often overlooked. They are frequently not referred for treatment or evaluation, which can lead to problems in the future.
How Undiagnosed ADHD Puts Girls at Risk
Girls with undiagnosed ADHD may face many challenges. Boys with ADHD externalize their frustrations while girls often internalize them. This may put them at an increased risk for anxiety, depression and even eating disorders. They are also more likely to have problems with personal relationships, academics and social settings.
Girls with ADHD are more likely to repeat grades or suffer with grades because of poor performance at school. This is why it is important for awareness to be raised not only among parents but also among teachers of students with ADHD so they can help to diagnose students who are missing project deadlines or who cannot plan ahead.
Girls with ADHD and low self-esteem might appear to be more impaired than boys with the condition. If this is the case, there is no surprise that the condition takes a toll on a girl’s emotional health and overall well-being. Some girls with ADHD may still get good grades but have to work three times as hard to get the grade and as a result they may not see themselves as smart or valuable as other students.
Because the elementary grades are not as challenging as the upper level grades (junior high and high school), girls with ADHD may do okay in elementary school and then get into the upper grades and falter. The demands for attention are greater during these upper levels, making it more difficult for students to get by at lower levels of efficiency. This is especially a problem because the students in these grade levels often change classes throughout the day, making it more difficult for teachers to get to know the students and identify problems that might point to ADHD.
These gender differences that apply to ADHD may also appear outside of the classroom. Girls with ADHD are often more rejected by their peers than boys. The primary reason is attributed to the fact that girls’ friendships often require more maturity and maintenance than that of boys’ during the elementary and adolescent years. Friendship among girls is more complex than just picking up two shovels on the playground and digging. Bonding and social cues play more into girl relationships during these years. The girl who blurts something out unrelated to what everyone else in her social group is talking about may be looked at sideways, leading to social awkwardness and making it difficult for her to feel good about herself.
Recognizing ADHD in Girls
Because girls with ADHD tend to lean more toward the inattentive side of the disorder, they can be more difficult to identify. Hyperactive aspects of ADHD are easier to see as they can be more disruptive or dangerous. Inattentive children are more likely to be forgetful, miss assignments or simply seem spacey. These symptoms are often mistaken as laziness or learning disabilities.
Symptoms of ADHD in girls may present as the following:
- Being withdrawn
- Intellectual impairment
- Low self-esteem
- Excessive talking
- Trouble listening
- Difficulty focusing
- Daydreaming often
- Verbal aggression, including taunting, teasing or name-calling
How to Help Girls with ADHD
If you suspect your daughter or a girl you know has ADHD, don’t wait to express concern – even if her teachers have not. Teachers are often trained to look for disorganization, hyperactivity or forgetfulness prior to requesting evaluations.
A pediatrician might be able to do an evaluation for ADHD but it is recommended to work with a healthcare professional that specializes in ADHD. Ensure that the evaluating clinician takes time to take into consideration a thorough medical history. The professional should also work with your student’s school to learn more about her behaviors.
An official diagnosis of ADHD can be welcome news for a girl who suffers from the disorder. Although many people presume that an ADHD diagnosis is a stigma, the majority of girls who are diagnosed feel better, knowing there is a name or reason for the way they feel.
If your daughter or a student you know exhibits symptoms of ADHD in girls, reach out to a licensed healthcare professional who specializes in ADHD to determine whether she may be battling the condition or not. There is always help available.