Daydream Believers: ADHD in Girls

Written by Jeanette Belliveau | Published on October 8, 2013
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on October 8, 2013

It may be difficult to recognize symptoms of ADHD in most girls with the condition.

A Different Type of ADHD

The high-energy boy who doesn’t focus in class and can’t sit still has been the subject of research for decades. However, it wasn’t until recent years that researchers started to focus on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in girls.

In part, that’s because girls may manifest ADHD symptoms differently. For example, girls are more likely to be staring out the window during class than jumping out of their seats.

The Numbers

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), parents of boys aged 4 to 17 are more than twice as likely as parents of girls in that age range to report that their child has ADHD (13.2 percent to 5.6 percent).

Boys are also much more likely to receive medication for the disorder than girls are (6.9 to 2.5 percent). The CDC found high rates of ADHD among multiracial children and those on medical assistance.

Know what not to say to the parent of an ADHD child »


Three types of behavior can identify a child with classic ADHD symptoms:

  • inattention
  • hyperactivity
  • impulsiveness

However, girls often have the “inattentive” form of ADHD. This type is marked by daydreaming, disorganization, and forgetfulness. If your daughter often doesn’t seem to be listening, is easily distracted, or makes careless mistakes, she could just be bored or going through a phase. Or, she may need further evaluation.

Risks If Not Diagnosed

Girls with untreated ADHD may have problems with low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and teen pregnancy.

Girls also may struggle with written language and make poor decisions. They may turn to drugs, alcohol, and overeating to self-medicate. In severe cases, they may inflict injury on themselves.


A teacher may suggest testing your daughter for ADHD if her problems seem more obvious at school than at home. To make a diagnosis, a doctor will perform a medical exam to rule out other possible causes for her symptoms. Then they’ll evaluate your daughter’s personal and family medical history, because ADHD has a genetic component.

The doctor may ask family members, babysitters, and coaches to complete questionnaires about behavior. A pattern of difficulty getting organized or avoiding tasks, losing items, and becoming distracted could indicate ADHD.


Girls may benefit from a combination of drugs, talk therapy, and behavioral skills counseling. Well-known drugs for ADHD include stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall, and antidepressants such as Wellbutrin.

Monitor your daughter closely to make sure she takes the correct dosage of medication. A counselor can also help her find ways of dealing with obstacles.

Positive Reinforcement

Many girls struggle with ADHD. You can help your daughter by focusing on her good qualities and praising behavior that you’d like to see more of.

Be sure to phrase feedback in a positive manner. For example, ask your child to walk rather than scolding her for running.

The Plus Side

A diagnosis of ADHD can bring your daughter relief, as her struggles in daily life will finally make sense. Clinical child psychologist Barbara Ingersoll suggests that children with ADHD have traits that are similar to hunters, warriors, adventurers, and explorers of earlier days. Your daughter may take solace in knowing that there’s not necessarily something “wrong” with her. Her skills just aren’t as appreciated in a modern world.

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