Girls with ADHD - Symptoms and Treatment
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a brain-based disorder that impacts up to 12% of school-aged children. There are 3 types of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and combined. Boys are diagnosed more often and earlier than girls because they tend to get noticed for their behaviour challenges. Girls tend to keep things to themselves, struggle in silence, and get overlooked. We need to better understand girls with ADHD so we can accurately identify their struggles and support them with appropriate intervention strategies so they can feel good about themselves and do well.
Review the list of symptoms below. It may help to expand your understanding of how ADHD tends to show up in girls. Girls with ADHD often:
have trouble paying attention (e.g., get distracted, get bored, lose interest quickly);
miss out on information;
forget things and struggle to follow directions;
are disorganized (e.g., misplace belongings, have a messy room or workspace);
have difficulty starting and completing tasks (e.g., homework, chores);
procrastinate and/or have difficulty managing time (e.g., lose track of time);
feel restless inside (e.g., doodle, fidget, or squirm);
have difficulty managing their behavior (e.g., loud, flighty);
talk very quickly and interrupt others in conversation;
appear aggressive in relationships (e.g., self-centred, energetic, erratic, easily upset, chatty, defiant, pushy, demanding, and controlling);
are very emotional and struggle to calm when upset or excited (e.g., extreme mood swings, easy to cry, quick to anger);
have difficulty in social settings (e.g., making and/or keeping friends);
have fragile self-esteem and doubt themselves;
underachieve despite their best intentions and efforts to do well.
Girls with ADHD struggle across many areas of functioning - academically, socially, emotionally, and behaviorally. They are often overlooked, misunderstood, and labelled as daydreamy, lazy, unmotivated, sensitive, chatty, bossy, and/or stubborn. Girls tend to hold in their feelings of frustration, shame, isolation, and self-blame. They tend to smile and show that they are doing well on the outside, even when they struggling on the inside. Girls with ADHD often get noticed for their secondary challenges that develop as a result of their struggles with ADHD, as opposed to their struggles with ADHD itself. These secondary challenges include:
risky and/or reckless behaviour,
Girls with ADHD need strategies to help manage their daily demands and validation to help cultivate a positive view of self. Treatment can include mediation, counselling, and coaching to address challenges with impulse control, emotional dysregulation, executive functioning, self-esteem, and more. Treatment for girls with ADHD must be tailored to meet the needs of each girl.
Girls with ADHD need understanding, compassion, and support from the adults in their lives. They need someone to notice them, listen to them, and validate their struggles. With knowledge, adults can help girls with ADHD understand themselves in a realistic and positive light, learn skills to manage their challenges, advocate for their rights and needs, persist when things are tough, and ultimately believe in their self-worth and their capacity to do well.
- Written by Cynthia Yoo, Registered Psychologist -
Books on girls with ADHD:
Understanding Girls with ADHD - by Kathleen G. Nadeau, Ellen B. Littman & Patricia O. Quinn
Raising Girls with ADHD - by James W. Forgan & Mary Anne Richey
Childmind Institute - resource for mental health and learning disorders
Understood - resource for learning and attention issues
CanLearn Society - helping children, youth and adults with learning, literacy, attention and related mental health challenges