ADHD in Girls

Statistics suggest that ADHD in girls is less common than that seen in boys since ADHD is diagnosed 2-4 times more often in boys. It could be that ADHD is overlooked or simply under diagnosed rather than less prevalent. There are some common sense reasons why this might be the case.

ADHD Symptoms

ADHD when diagnosed is characterized by hyperactivity, inattentiveness and/or impulsiveness; a formal diagnoses of ADHD falls into one of three sub-classes: predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, predominantly inattentive or a combination of these.

Generally speaking when most people think of ADHD the most common symptom type described is the hyperactive/impulsive type - and the person or student they describe is a boy. Of interest boys tend to be diagnosed with predominantly hyperactive-impulsive or combination ADHD. These hyperactive symptoms (or presentation) are very visible - in other words stand out in the classroom, at home, and in a social or group settings such as boy scouts, club activities, or sports. Think about the classroom and a student who can't sit still, fidgets, or is disruptive - these symptoms will definitely will stand out - but not in a good way.

ADHD Symptoms in Girls

Studies of ADHD in girls shows that ADHD can and does exist in all three classes of ADHD. However, statistics show that the inattentive type is seen more frequently. Inattentive symptoms of ADHD in girls include:

  • Inability to focus
  • Daydreaming
  • Confusion
  • Processing information slowly: such as directions and questions.
  • Difficulty listening and following instructions

These symptoms are not necessarily disruptive and may not stand out in a social or classroom setting like those of hyperactivity or fidgeting stand out. A teachers or parents first thought may be lazy or not capable rather than ADHD. It is important to differentiate and not label someone as having ADHD if they need to learn to study harder. However, if they do have ADHD, have a parent with ADHD, then proper diagnosis may be the most important step in helping this girl become all that she can become. Other symptoms such as incessant talking, over-socializing, frequently changing subjects may be written off as "typical" for young girls, while hyperactivity may be dismissed as tomboyish behavior. Girls tend to display less disruptive behaviors in the classroom and teachers may overlook a lack of focus or inattentiveness.

Importance of Good Teachers

ADHD needs to be diagnosed by a qualified professional - a pediatrician, family doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist or neurologist. A well-informed, observant teacher can be invaluable by providing detailed information about the girls behavior in the classroom and interactions with other children. Many times it is the observant teacher who first alerts the parents that a child might might have symptoms resembling ADHD. Caution is advised - as it is the health care professional who does the diagnosing, so teachers should not be making statements like "Your child has ADHD". Rather the good teacher offers observations of behaviors so that the parents can interact with their physician.

Gifted girls with ADHD are even more challenging to identify. Signs may not be noticeable until she is older and high IQ and academic performance may cause denial regarding symptoms. Their giftedness enables them to complete common assignments and multi-task readily. As the gifted student ages, assumes more and more responsibility, often the ADHD symptoms begin to emerge because they cease being able to overcome the ever increasing levels of tasks and responsibility. By the time symptoms advance into the obvious, girls are often overwhelmed, disorganized and even discouraged.

Girls are Different From Boys

Research shows that male and female brains actually do function differently. This is not to say that girls and boys cannot display the same signs and symptoms, but too often ADHD in girls - between 50-75% - goes unnoticed and un-diagnosed because they do not consistently show or predominantly show hyperactivity or impulsivity.

Following are several simple things teachers can try or identify to determine whether behaviors such as incessant talking, lack of focus and disorganization are signs of ADHD:

  • Rearranging seating assignments to see if it decreases talking; if ADHD is present, incessant talking will persist even if a student is no longer seated next to a close friend.

  • A daydreamer may be bored with a topic or find it too easy; the teacher will note if daydreaming occurs in just one subject or in all subjects; if a student drifts off no matter what the subject or difficulty level, ADHD should be investigated.

  • Many times, when girls are over-emotional or impulsive, adults dismiss the behaviors as over-sensitivity; however, an inability to control emotions and outbursts may, in fact, be a telltale sign of ADHD and can be noted by the teacher.

Parental Role

Parents pay the most important role because they are your child's primary advocate. It pays for parents to learn as much as possible so that their child will receive proper treatment when it is indicated. In some settings or cultures, preconceived notions suggest that women and girls easily suffer from anxiety and/or depression. While anxiety or depression may be playing a role, if ADHD has not been ruled out treatment may begin for symptoms that may not be the root cause. Before beginning treatment you should feel confident you are treating the correct illness. Parents have the right to seek a second opinion from another health care professional if they feel something is missing.

Ways to Help

ADHD treatments can include counseling, classroom interventions and medications, and girls may still need an additional support system. Following are ways to assist girls with ADHD:

  • Stress management techniques to help with overwhelming, uncontrollable emotions

  • Minimize corrections and criticisms, focus on incremental goals and positive reinforcements

  • Build up self-esteem and confidence concentrating on things she does well and progress

  • Look at maladaptive behaviors in terms of realistic goals to improve


ADHD in girls is diagnosed less than with boys; but this prevalence may be a result of overlooking signs or mis-diagnosis. Parents, teachers and professionals need to discover what works best for every individual child and create an atmosphere where girls with ADHD can be diagnosed and given every possible advantage to succeed.

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