Daydream Believers: ADHD in Girls

A different type of ADHD


  1. Hyperactivity, fidgeting, and an inability to sit still are typical behaviors for boys dealing with the disorder. This isn’t always the case for girls with ADHD, though.
  2. It’s estimated that as many as 50 to 75 percent of cases of ADHD in girls are missed.
  3. If ADHD remains undiagnosed, young girls may find it difficult to function in everyday situations.

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), three times more males than females are diagnosed with ADHD. The CDC points out that this higher rate of diagnosis among boys may be because their symptoms are more overt than those of girls. Boys tend toward running, hitting, and other aggressive behaviors. Girls become withdrawn and may develop anxiety or low self-esteem.  



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

  • inattention
  • hyperactivity
  • impulsiveness
Symptoms of inattentive ADHD
Girls most often have the “inattentive” form of ADHD. Symptoms include:
  • daydreaming
  • disorganization
  • forgetfulness
  • If your daughter exhibits the following behaviors, she could just be bored, or she may need further evaluation.

    • She often doesn’t seem to be listening.
    • She is easily distracted.
    • She makes careless mistakes.



    A teacher may suggest testing your daughter for ADHD if her concerning behavior seems 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 the following people to complete questionnaires about your daughter’s behavior:

    • family members
    • babysitters
    • coaches

    A pattern involving the following behaviors could indicate ADHD:

    • getting organized
    • avoiding tasks
    • losing items
    • becoming distracted

    Risk factors

    Risks if not diagnosed

    Girls with untreated ADHD may develop issues that include:

    • low self-esteem
    • anxiety
    • depression
    • teen pregnancy

    Girls also may struggle with written language and poor decision making. They may begin to self-medicate with:

    • drugs
    • alcohol
    • overeating

    In severe cases, they may inflict injury on themselves.




    Girls may benefit from a combination of:

    • drugs
    • therapy
    • positive reinforcement


    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.


    Both behavioral skills counseling and talk therapy are often helpful to children with ADHD. And a counselor can recommend 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 often. Be sure to phrase feedback in a positive manner. For example, ask your daughter to walk, rather than scold her for running.



    The plus side

    A diagnosis of ADHD can bring your daughter relief when her symptoms are affecting daily life. In her book “Daredevils and Daydreamers,” Barbara Ingersoll, a clinical child psychologist, 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 challenge is to find a way to use her skills in the modern world.

    Article resources
    • Capaccio, G. (2008). ADD and ADHD. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark.
    • Hinshaw, S. P., Owens, E. B., Zalecki, C., Montenegro-Nevado, A. J., Perrigue-Huggins, S., Schrodek, E., & Swanson, E. N.  (2012). Prospective follow-up of girls with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder into early adulthood: Continuing impairment includes elevated risk for suicide attempts and self-injury. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 80(6), 1041-1051. Retrieved from
    • Increasing prevalence of parent-reported attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder among children --- United States, 2003 and 2007. (2010, November 12). Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 59(44), 1439-1442. Retrieved from
    • Ingersoll, B. (2010). Daredevils and Daydreamers. New York, NY: Random House. 
    • Mayo Clinic Staff. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children (2016, March 11).  Retrieved from
    • Quinn, P. (2010). 100 Questions & answers about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (adhd) in women and girls. Mississauga, Ont.: Jones & Bartlett. 
    • Understanding ADHD: information for parents. (2015, November 21). Retrieved from
    • Yoshimasu, K., Barbaresi, W. J., Colligan, R. C., Killian, J. M., Voigt, R. G., Weaver, A. L., & Katusic, S. K.  (2011, September). Written-language disorder among children with and without ADHD in a population-based birth cohort. Pediatrics, 128(3), e605-e612.  Retrieved from