ADHD in Girls

It is easy to spot the student with a strong hyperactive and impulsive component in the classroom, however spotting the quiet, undemanding, student who spends much of their time daydreaming is more of a challenge. Often, but not always, this is the way that girls with ADHD present in an academic setting. For this reason, girls are frequently not diagnosed until later in adolescence or adulthood. Girls that do end up in a doctor’s office for an assessment are most often those with the hyperactive/impulsive presentation, or those with symptoms on the severe end of the spectrum.

The primarily inattentive presentation of ADHD more frequently found in females, although not exclusively, can often go undiagnosed resulting in later coexisting disorders of anxiety and depression. ADHD can also be misdiagnosed as one of these disorders. Unfortunately, even today many females with ADHD may be treated for depression and anxiety, often unsuccessfully, while their underlying ADHD remains undiagnosed and untreated.

Interestingly, new research has shown that girls with ADHD also have an increased risk for an additional diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and Conduct Disorder.

Girls who have a high level of intelligence are even less likely to be diagnosed at school age, but will most often not reach their academic potential. Females with ADHD may be able to obtain some academic success due to obsessional and perfectionist tendencies, spending long hours on home work and assignments in order to compensate for their ADHD, further increasing their anxiety. Boys’ symptoms of hyperactivity decrease in adolescence, but girls’ symptoms of mood swings, anxiety and depression often increase.

Some of the Ways Girls May Present in the Classroom:

Inattentive Sub-type

  • Daydreamers
  • Not willing to take risks and easily discouraged
  • Shy
  • Easily overwhelmed
  • May be under active
  • Self-blaming
  • Anxious and depressed
  • Anxiety around school performance

Hyperactive/Impulsive sub-type or combined

  • Hyperactivity may be expressed in being over-talkative “Chatty Cathy”
  • Fidgety
  • Bossy
  • Risk taking
  • Unable to keep up with work load

Other traits:

  • Problems with times of transitions
  • Immature
  • Unable to read other’s cues
  • May not have friends
  • Difficulty fitting in

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Reading list ADHD and Girls