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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Girls: Symptoms, Treatments, and More

When your daughter received her last report card, did the teacher comment on her excellent grades but also on her inability to pay attention in class? Do you ever catch your niece daydreaming instead of studying for her quiz? It may not seem like it, but these girls might be at risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Understanding ADHD in girls

It’s no secret that girls develop differently than boys. These differences aren’t just linked to how their bodies develop. They can also be seen in how their brains grow and develop. These developmental differences can make it harder to assess whether a girl is dealing with ADHD. ADHD is a brain disorder characterized by patterns of inattention or impulsive behavior. This behavior can interfere with day-to-day activities.

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Because the symptoms of ADHD are different in girls, many girls aren’t properly diagnosed. This can prevent girls from getting the help that could positively improve their lives. It’s estimated that as many at 50 to 75 percent of cases of ADHD in girls are missed. Read more about the symptoms, how your child’s doctor can diagnose it, and what you can do to make sure your child gets help.

Signs and symptoms of ADHD in girls

One of the most common symptoms linked with ADHD is hyperactivity. Hyperactivity, fidgeting, and the inability to sit still are typical behaviors for boys dealing with the disorder. This isn’t always the case for girls with ADHD, though.

The following behaviors may indicate ADHD in girls:

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  • talking all the time, even when parents or teachers ask them to stop
  • frequent crying, even from small disappointments
  • constantly interrupting conversations or activities that include their friends
  • trouble paying attention
  • frequent daydreaming
  • having a messy bedroom, desk, or backpack
  • difficulty finishing assigned work

Girls may also be affected by ADHD if they experience:

  • depression
  • stress
  • anxiety
  • low self-esteem

It’s not known why ADHD presents differently in girls. These differences make the disorder harder to diagnose in girls. Sometimes, people recognize the symptoms but ignore them. Because of their varied nature, these symptoms may be written off as immature behavior or attributed to another disorder.

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Can ADHD lead to other conditions?

If ADHD remains undiagnosed, young girls may find it difficult to function in everyday situations. Things may become more difficult if girls internalize this behavior and blame themselves. This can lead them to become frustrated with themselves. These frustrations can become a problem for their mental health and schoolwork.

If the disorder is untreated, they may also experience a drop in grades or an inability to manage friendships. This can lead to low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is linked to bigger issues, such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

Recent research has found that young women with ADHD are three to four times more likely to attempt suicide. They’re also two to three times more likely to engage in self-harm.

How is ADHD diagnosed?

In many cases, ADHD in girls is often first noticed in the classroom. A teacher is most likely to bring up the possibility of ADHD because they see how a student interacts in the classroom and on the playground. Once the concern is shared with the parents, the parents are generally invited to meet with the teacher and school counselor to discuss next steps.

These steps may include you and your child’s teacher watching your child more closely. Your child’s counselor may also perform special testing. These tests may involve running through a checklist of symptoms and a medical exam to rule out anything else that may be causing these symptoms. Your child’s counselor will likely want to know the following:

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  • the severity of the symptoms
  • when the symptoms started
  • your child’s location when they have the symptoms, such as at school or at home

This will help determine what steps you and teachers can take to help your child.

When to see a doctor

Make sure that after meeting with the teacher and school counselor, you have a detailed list of their concerns. You may also want to brainstorm a plan of action. This can help you coordinate efforts at home and school.

Your child’s doctor will want to review all concerns and perform an exam. At this time, the doctor will provide their diagnosis and discuss a treatment plan. Your child may later be referred to a child psychologist who specializes in ADHD in girls.

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How is ADHD treated?

Sometimes, it’s necessary to combine different treatments.

It may be necessary for your child’s teacher to create an individualized teaching plan. This may include specific words or hand signals to remind your child to stay on task in class. Teachers may also focus on providing small tasks with easy-to-understand directions that will help your child slowly understand the bigger picture. It may also be beneficial to work with your child to remove clutter from the desk or backpack. Clearing away any additional messes can help limit distractions.

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Following what teachers will do in the classroom, your doctor may suggest similar changes in the home. This may help the child overcome day-to-day struggles.

If your child is a candidate, your doctor may also prescribe medication to help them focus and manage other symptoms of ADHD.

The takeaway

If your child has ADHD, getting a proper diagnosis can improve their chances of better grades, better mental health, and better personal relationships. Although there’s no cure for ADHD, the right combination of treatments can help your child to live a happy, healthy, and productive life.

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