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Girls with ADHD

Updated on August 21, 2013

Why Girls with ADHD and ADD go undiagnosed

Much has been documented about boys with Attention Deficit Disorder, (ADD), and Hyperactivity Disorder, (HD), however, as a parent or educator would you be able to recognize a female student with this same diagnosis? It would be easy to miss because the symptoms do not exhibit itself in the same way that it does with boys.

With the media focus primarily on the impulsivity of male students, girls are often left behind when it comes to recognition of special needs and programs. Why? Because most teachers are familiar with external characteristics, such as unruly behavior, and the less obvious characteristics, like daydreaming or being ‘scatterbrained’, that may be exhibited by female students. Unfortunately, undiagnosed AD/HD can lead to consequences for the female student that can affect her far into her future.

In her research with girls with AD/HD, Anita Gurian, PhD, clinical assistant professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine, believes that girls are often around 12 before they are diagnosed, while their male counterparts are typically a much younger age. Because of the overt characteristics that a boy displays in his behavior, it is more readily observed compared to the subtle, less obtrusive signs a girl shows.

Understanding girls with AD/HD

lack of focus or daydreaming is a problem in school.
lack of focus or daydreaming is a problem in school. | Source

Common Characteristics of Attention Deficit Disorder in Females

Here is a list of some of the common characteristics that girls may display:

Poor grades despite a high IQ and / or creativity

Low self-esteem

Inability to organize

Poor social skills

Appearing messy or showing a chronically messy workspace


Difficulty falling or staying asleep

School avoidance or phobia

Withdrawal within the classroom

Forgetfulness-appearing unfocused

Inability to follow through or complete projects


Test anxiety

Incomplete, or missing assignments

Feeling like they don’t fit in.

Undiagnosed ADD or ADHD can result in poor self esteem

Many girls who engage in drug or nicotine use suffer from undiagnosed ADD or ADHD.
Many girls who engage in drug or nicotine use suffer from undiagnosed ADD or ADHD. | Source

Problems Surrounding ADD/ADHD in Girls

Girls who have an undiagnosed AD/HD suffer from social stigmas more than their male classmates do. While a boy who is disruptive within the classroom can be annoying, culturally we expect boys, especially at the elementary age, to exhibit bursts of impulsive energy, noise and rambunctiousness.

Not so, however, when a female student interrupts with excessive chatter, intrusiveness from maintaining poor boundaries, or is plagued with periods of unexplained and uncontrolled physical outbursts. Besides being misunderstood by their teacher, these girls are often shunned by their peers.

The stigma of being different can result in various issues: Feeling like she does not fit in like other girls; experiencing loneliness, depression and anxiety resulting in school avoidance or phobias; engaging in risky behavior such as smoking, drinking, illicit drugs or promiscuity to ‘prove’ her popularity.

ADD and ADHD in the Classroom

Impulsiveness is just one manifestation of the disorder of AD/HD. The other side is the attention deficit. This shows itself as difficulty concentrating on school work; excessive day dreaming; inability to follow through with completing projects; indecisiveness; easy distraction; organizational problems; forgetfulness; incomplete assignments; and frustration or anxiety in attempts to meet expectations of parents and teachers.

In our competitive society comparison to other classmates is an unfortunate byproduct. Girls who recognize that they are having difficulty with tasks that their peers are achieving experience negative self-judgment and criticism. If not addressed during the developmental growth period these girls may struggle with this for their entire lives never reaching their potential.

Additionally, parents, particularly mothers, may find it difficult to accept that their daughter is different from other girls, adding rejection from one who could act as an advocate.

Books about Attention Deficit Disorder

Getting professional help for your daughter with possible Attention Deficit Disorder

It is important for a parent to be aware of how your child is interacting with other children as early as possible. When there is suspicion that ‘something’ is not right, following up with a competent physician may increase your child’s opportunity for early intervention. But, this may not happen until the child has started school. There, within the larger environment of the classroom, a teacher may add information that is imperative to build a larger picture of the problem.

Finding a competent physician may be an overwhelming task. Referrals by trusted friends and family may be helpful. Although a generalist may be the most convenient resource it is important for parents to realize that a family physician may not be the best choice when it comes to matters of mental health. A pediatric psychiatrist is schooled in the latest treatment and can work with the parents to devise the most accurate plan of care that will serve to turn the disorder into a manageable challenge.

In addition, a therapist will may work in conjunction with a psychiatrist, for emotional support surrounding issues of low self esteem, adjustment to social awkwardness and behavioral problems.

Proper medication can make a difference in a positive way.

Attention Deficit difficulties are manageable with medications.
Attention Deficit difficulties are manageable with medications. | Source

Medications for ADD or ADHD can improve focus in school

Giving children medication for AD/HD has frequently been problematic for conscientious parents. Diminished appetite resulting in a loss of weight is a common side effect of most stimulants. Ritalin, Dexedrine, and Adderall are three frequently used stimulant medications. There are, however, others such as Strattera and Focalin which have had less of an effect on the appetite. With a good working relationship between parent and doctor finding the right medication is possible.

The purpose of medicating the child with AD/HD is to bring their physiological chemistry to a level of functioning to enable them to be successful in the classroom and at home; with their peers, socially, and their alone time; focusing on completing tasks and meeting goals.

Reading Material

Understanding Girls with AD/HD by Kathleen G. Nadeau, PhD, Ellen B Littman, PhD, and Patricia O Quinn, MD is a handbook filled with information and tips for parents and educators. I find that it is one of the best books on the subject of AD/HD specific to girls.

Attitude is a magazine for parents of all children with ADHD. It is filled with parental tips and resources, as well as timely articles.

Parental Tips to help a daughter suffering with ADHD or ADD

Helping your child succeed requires a special effort on all family members and teachers. It is important to remember that most schools offer special programs for children with AD/HD.

In the home environment it is best to establish a routine and stick with it as closely as possible.

There are special tools that are helpful. Some of these can be found in ‘teacher’ stores. For example: a clock that can be set with 15 minute increments keeps a child on task.

Breaking down large chores into smaller, more manageable tasks aids in organization skills.

If there is a sleep problem talk to her physician-she may need a medication adjustment. Don’t let her become over stimulated with activities before bedtime, but doing something she enjoys that is a quiet, relaxing activity may help her to ease into the bedtime routine.

Keep the distractions to a minimum by having an area for study that is not in the middle of family activity. Set a time limit and offer a reward when she accomplishes her goals.

Serve food that is appealing and nutritious without being overwhelming. Keeping high protein snacks available is also useful if she is on a stimulant that accelerates her metabolism.

By staying open, positive, and accepting of your daughter’s disorder you can build a relationship with her that shows her you are her advocate. Encourage her to come to you to discuss her feelings, tell of her school experiences, and offer a computer blog or journal to write her feelings down.

Low self esteem is frequently a problem. Encourage her to join an activity she is interested in and help her build friendships with girls who may experience this disorder.


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    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      4 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi poetryman6969 I'm so happy that you found this hub. It's obvious, from your comment, that you've learned a few things, mainly-that it is NOT just a male disorder. Thanks for stopping by.

    • poetryman6969 profile image


      4 years ago

      I thought only boys got this. I have heard it referred to as testosterone poisoning.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks Rose. By reading your comment this helped to prompt me to update the information. :)

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 

      7 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks for alerting me to this great resource! I will link it up with my special education interview questions article.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks alphagirl. My granddaughter who has ADD is a bright, creative young girl who functions better re: concentration and mood, on her medication and she will be the first to let her mom know when it needs adjusting.

      She LOVES wolves and has a huge collection of wolf stuff. She calls herself 'wolf girl' and I dedicated my hub: The Wolves to her.

      About the ADHD-she may not be my granddaughter. It is hard to know if you don't get it checked out. Read the books recommended here or go to a child psychiatrist-NOT a family dr. to find out for sure.

      Medication is not all the same. It was trial and error before it was the right stuff for O. Please don't hesitate to contact me with questions if needed.

      Good luck. Please remember: not getting a proper diagnosis or medication if needed does the child a huge disservice b/c it is the difference between walking around in a 'cloud' of confusion all day vs. walking in the sunshine.

      Best to you. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • alphagirl profile image


      7 years ago from USA

      My niece had ADHD. It helped her get through high school. I believe she out grew it. My daughter has it in my opinion, but my husband refuses to see it that way. I know she has it because although she is gifted and smart she has outbursts of a bad temper and she gets distracted easily. Great hub!

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks LINC for reading and commenting. I will check your work out as well. I appreciate your information here. You make an excellent point about the first signs being anxiety. I'm looking forward to investigating the book you mention. The more information the better understanding. Thanks and welcome to hubpages.

    • L.I.N.C profile image


      8 years ago from Montreal, Canada

      This is a HUGE topic. You are all courageous and generous for sharing your very personal stories and experiences. I am going to venture out here and throw out a few thoughts.

      One, I believe girls tend to socialize with ease and energy earlier than boys do - research is showing young boys entering into Kindergarten 1.5 years behind girls developmentally.Therefor young girls slip easily under the radar until early teens before we as a society recognize the first signs. Behaviorally they are less of a challenge, but socially their pull is stronger and demands more of them as they enter their tweens. Yes, teachers feel deflated, exasperated and unequipped to deal with these kids, be it a girl or a boy.

      I believe the very first sign of ADHD is anxiety and/or alarm and that very emotion hyjacks the brain, leading it to struggle when focusing on the relevant info and also further struggles filtering out the unnecessary info. Check out one my hubs for a book that begins to shed light on some of this. Cheers !

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Pamela-my heart goes out to you and the special challenge you faced as a parent. My nephew has ADHD, among other difficulties; my two oldest grandchildren have ADD and ADHD, brother and sister. My daughter did a great deal of research before agreeing on medication. Fortunately, I used to work for the dr I recommended and he is highly respected for his gentle use of right medications.

      Together, my granddaughter, my daughter and the dr, they come to the right combination to help her stay focused and not 'drugged' up.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your experiences.

    • Pamela N Red profile image

      Pamela N Red 

      8 years ago from Oklahoma

      Great article, Denise. My oldest son has ADD, my youngest son has ADHD and my daughter has ADHD. It was interesting at my house.

      I don't like medication and we had bad experiences with all of them They are harsh narcotics and have terrible side effects. There are other methods to educating these kids but unfortunately most teachers don't have the patience or time.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Thank you for your comments. It was written from both a professional and personal experience. My dear, oldest granddaughter is diagnosed with ADD. She is a beautiful, intelligent, creative free spirit who has been challenged with this disorder. She is a blessing, as it has allowed me to open my mind wider to the difficulties that those who do not fall in the category of 'normal' face. They have to climb obstacles that we do not and what we take for granted can be major struggles for them. Thanks for stopping to read.

    • Treasuresofheaven profile image

      Sima Ballinger 

      8 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks for your professional advice on this topic. I know much of this to be true. Great writing and topic that you have broaden our understanding about.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Neverltitgo-thank you for your comments and nice fan mail. I appreciate it. :) Glad you liked this.

    • Neverletitgo profile image

      Abdinasir Aden 

      8 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

      This is a great hub and it is really more helpful for parents to know in order to keep truck on their child. Thanks for sharing.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Not granddaughter also has anxiety. The AD/HD is difficult to diagnose, although the psychiatrist certainly should have considered that. ??? Take care and best wishes with this.

    • Puppy Future profile image

      Puppy Future 

      8 years ago from Falls Church

      Fortunatly, she sees a psychiatrist for an anxiety disorder. Hmmmmm. Misdiagnosis?

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Sue, I'm so glad that my hub was helpful to you. Please be sure to check out the books, estp the "understanding girls with Ad / HD it was very helpful for me re: my granddaughter who is 10. Im glad that this 'difference' has finally been recognized and addressed. If you do not have any positive results from your dr, whom I am guessing is your family physician, ask if he is assoc or can recommend a pediatric/adolescent psychiatrist. I know the idea of taking ones child to a 'psychiatrist' is often considered taboo and frowned on, they are the experts in dealing with this problem and are the best to assess, test and diagnose the problem. Please write me back and let me know how it goes, if you would. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Puppy Future profile image

      Puppy Future 

      8 years ago from Falls Church

      Thanks. I have an 11 yr old that is classic. I'm going to speak to her dr. now. I suspected ADHD but she wasn't fitting the characteristics I'd heard. This is exactly what I needed to know.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Marie, Thanks for reading & commenting on this hub. I know you understand the difficulties with having a disability. I was fascinated with the Temple Grandin story after watching the Emmy awards and was so impressed with what this autistic woman had accomplished that it prompted another hub.

      Nice meeting you and I'm looking forward to reading your work. :)

    • MPG Narratives profile image

      Marie Giunta 

      8 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      ADHD is a condition which is misunderstood, especially where medication is concerned. Thanks for the great information you've given, it will help many.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks Katie for your comments and stopping by to read the hub. It is an issue dear to my heart as my eldest granddaughter has been diagnosed with it. Her mother has done a fabulous job researching, advocating and teaching friends and family about this. She has opened my eyes to that wonderful book that had a wealth of info and it has been a small miracle to see the progress Olivia has made with the right support and treatment. I feel very blessed.

    • katiem2 profile image

      Katie McMurray 

      9 years ago from Westerville

      Denise, Thank you so much for the focus on Girls with ADHD, my daughters third grade teacher mentioned she thought my daughter may be ADHD as she never pays attention to her, has all these little projects going on at her desk, folding paper, building things and doodling, the teachers says it really annoys her and yet each time she calls on her she knows the answer and is in fact paying attention, she just can't set idle. She said if my daughter wasn't so bright she'd consider having her medicated. What a scary thing to hear from a teacher. My daughter is now in the 7th grade, straight A student, still hyper, very happy and social, NOT medicated. Teaching children to keep themselves occupied and ingaged in the classroom is a valuable trick we can all learn from.... I really appreciate this article VERY much! As a parent with a daughter who's bright and hyper I value this goldmine of information and ADHD.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks Rafini, for your feedback. How's school?

    • Rafini profile image


      9 years ago from Somewhere I can't get away from

      Well written and informative. Good job!

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      thanks Lilly-I agree. It is far more common and far less acknowledged. Anything to lend a hand through knowledge and understanding. Empowerment!

    • LillyGrillzit profile image

      Lori J Latimer 

      9 years ago from Central Oregon

      Thank you for publishing this Hub! This is a great service to many girls who are led to believe they are under par. Bravo! Giving these girls a voice will help our entire culture. Tweeted and FB'd voted UP Thanks.


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