adhd in girls differences halza digital health

When you picture someone with ADHD, do you see a boy or a girl? 

Many might think of males as more likely to develop attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This could be due to the perception of boys being more hyperactive than their female counterparts in childhood, with hyperactivity being the stereotypical marker of ADHD. 

But in their review of 41 articles exploring the topic of ADHD in women and girls, Patricia O. Quinn and Manisha Madhoo uncovered that women and girls with ADHD display different symptoms compared to their male counterparts. 

Girls are more likely to have internal symptoms that are not visible to others. They tend to also develop better coping strategies than boys with the same condition.  

So, what are these symptoms and how exactly do these differences impact girls and women in particular 

 

First, let’s distinguish the types of ADHD

There are 3 types of ADHD: 

  1. Inattentive only – trouble paying attention, doesn’t tend to be disruptive 
  2. Hyperactive and impulsive – may focus well, but hyperactive and impulsive behavior may be disruptive 
  3. Combined inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive – has all the above symptoms 

While the main signs and symptoms of ADHD can apply to both boys and girls, studies have shown that girls are more likely to have the inattentive form. Even if girls experience any symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity, these may still present differently from how they present in boys. 

adhd symptoms in girls appearing withdrawn crying easily daydreaming disorganized and messy forgetful halza digital health

The symptoms most likely to appear in girls include: 

  • appearing withdrawn 
  • crying easily  
  • daydreaming and being in a world of her own  
  • being disorganized and messy (in appearance and physical space) 
  • lacking motivation 
  • being forgetful  
  • being highly sensitive to noise, fabrics, or emotions 
  • making “careless” mistakes
  • often slamming doors shut

adhd symptoms in girls shyness being shy easily upset halza digital health

  • seeming shy 
  • seeming easily upset  
  • taking time to process information and directions; seeming like she doesn’t hear you 
  • being verbally impulsive; blurting out and interrupting others  

These symptoms may also resemble other medical conditions or behavioral problems and may occur in girls who do not have ADHD. Also, not all girls with ADHD will exhibit every one of these signs and symptoms. Having one or two of these also does not indicate an ADHD diagnosis.  

In the same review, Quinn and Madhoo also highlighted that the symptoms of ADHD often intensify for girls during puberty, a time when estrogen increases in their bodies 

Hormonal changes may cause mood and behavioral difficulties. Girls with ADHD may become more over-reactive emotionally and hyper-irritable. They may also have problematic mood swings, anxiety, and even feelings of panic. It is especially important they receive the help they need to cope with the condition during this time. 

For more on the generic symptoms of ADHD, read here. 

 

Getting diagnosed with ADHD

Seeking out an experienced healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis is recommended for girls who exhibit several of the above symptoms on a continual basis.  

Professionals qualified to diagnose ADHD include: 

  • Psychiatrists 
  • Neurologists 
  • Psychologists 
  • Psychotherapists 

It might be helpful to ask if the healthcare professional has experience in diagnosing ADHD specifically before making an appointment. 

getting diagnosed with adhd in girls Psychiatrists Neurologists Psychologists Psychotherapists halza digital health

Approaching the family doctor could also be a helpful place to start. While they might not carry out a detailed evaluation, they can provide a referral to a professional instead. 

 

Why do more boys have ADHD?

Research has shown it’s not that more boys have ADHD, it’s just that boys usually have the hyperactive and impulsive type of ADHD, which comes with relatively more identifiable symptoms. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 14.5of 5 to 17 year-old boys and 6.5 % of 5 to 17-year-old girls received aADHD diagnosis, making boys more than twice as likely as girls to receive a diagnosis of ADHD.  

 

What is the impact of ADHD on girls?

Research indicates that left undiagnosed, ADHD can jeopardize girls’ and young women’s self-esteem and even their mental health.  

They are more likely to blame themselves for their mistakes and shortcomings, turning their anger and pain inward.  

impact of adhd on girls and women depression anxiety major stress halza digital health

Compared to their peers without ADHD, girls and women with ADHD may experience problems like: 

  • major depression 
  • anxiety 
  • chronic stress 
  • eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa 
  • a higher risk of stress-related diseases such as fibromyalgia (a disorder that causes tiredness and pain) 
  • more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behavior 
  • more likely to develop substance addiction 
  • underachievement 

The symptoms of ADHD might also leave girls struggling to understand and comply with societal conventions, especially while having to navigate relationships at a school-going age.  

Deciding things like what to wear, what to say, how to say it, when to be nice or mean can put a lot more pressure on girls with ADHD. Being unable to conform might make them social outcasts or the target of bullies, leaving them isolated and confused either way. 

 

How can ADHD in girls be treated?

Medication, psychotherapy, or both, may be prescribed by a doctor. Girls should also be encouraged to manage their ADHD by: 

 

  • exercising or playing a team sport 
  • regularly spending time outdoors and in nature 
  • learning more about nutrition and how eating habits affect symptoms 
  • reading relevant research, books, or articles that helps them better understand their condition 
  • resting and sleeping well 
  • setting simple and predictable routines for meals, homework, play, or bed 
  • celebrating small achievements 
  • finding a suitable group behavioral therapy 
  • setting an alarm for activities and deadlines to improve time management 

As girls grow up and become more independent, ADHD management techniques may change to include: 

  • understanding and accepting challenges instead of judgment and self-blame 
  • identifying the sources of stress in daily life and making changes to lower stress levels 
  • simplifying schedules as much as possible 
  • learning to ask clearly for structure and support from family and friends 
  • scheduling daily “time out” 

coping with adhd develop healthy self care habits like cooking healthy meals halza digital health

  • developing healthy self-care habits, such as cooking nutritious meals
  • focusing on and prioritizing enjoyable activities  

Greater education is needed to improve visibility on what ADHD in girls looks like. With all the societal pressure put on girls, conforming is hard work, even without a condition like ADHD. 

What ADHD looks like shouldn’t be limited to the image of a young boy running around and screaming – ADHD can also look like a little girl doodling on the corner of her worksheet, or a woman intensely stressed over being unable to meet work deadlines. 

Understanding this helps girls and women with ADHD remember that their mistakes are not always their fault and lets them be gentler on themselves. Understanding this also lets those around them give better support and encouragement when needed. 

 

How Halza helps

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Sources: Medical News TodayNCBIChild MindVery Well Mind, 2