It isn’t always easy to recognize ADHD in girls. They may have different symptoms than boys.
Everyone said Carly was a “good girl.” She was quiet in class and never caused any trouble for her teachers. But school was trouble for her.
From kindergarten on, her teachers agreed that she was bright and creative, but her grades were poor. She couldn’t seem to finish assignments. When she did, she often lost them or forgot to turn them in. “She was a dreamer,” her mom, Josie, says. “She was more interested in the birds outside the window than what was going on in the classroom.”
Carly has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). She was diagnosed at age 12, after her younger brother, David, was diagnosed. It was David’s doctor who suggested that Carly might have the same problem. But instead of being hyperactive like David, Carly has a subset of ADHD called inattentive type.
It was a lucky catch. Many girls with ADHD are never diagnosed. As a result, they enter adulthood without any idea there might be a problem in the way their brains are wired. This can lead to low self-esteem, frustrated careers and relationship problems. It’s not unusual for these girls to have other problems, too, such as anxiety or depression.
What does ADHD in girls look like?
Boys tend to have the hyperactive symptoms most people associate with ADHD. They fidget, talk nonstop and have trouble staying in their seats and taking turns. Girls are more likely to have symptoms of inattention. These girls often:
- Make careless mistakes or don’t pay attention to details
- Have trouble sustaining attention
- Seem not to hear when spoken to
- Don’t finish homework or chores
- Are disorganized
- Don’t like tasks that require sustained mental effort
- Lose things such as schoolwork, pencils and books
- Are easily distracted
- Are forgetful
It can be easy for teachers and parents to overlook these girls because they typically don’t disrupt the class or create problems at home.
But the girls themselves may be aware that something is wrong, and they may blame themselves. They’re often relieved to get a diagnosis and realize their struggles were due to a neurological problem, not a character flaw.
If you think your daughter may have ADHD, find a mental health professional who can do an evaluation. ADHD is not simple to diagnose. It can be especially hard in girls, so look for someone who specializes in ADHD or children’s behavior disorders. Your family doctor or a school counselor may be able to refer you to someone qualified.
Success is possible
Now, at age 15 Carly takes medicine for her ADHD, and she’s able to focus on her work. Her grades and self-esteem show the difference. “In grade school I used to make C’s and D’s. Now I’m in accelerated classes, and I make mostly A’s and a few B’s,” she says. “Kids used to call me a space cadet, and I thought I was dumb and lazy. Now I know I’m not.”
Carly’s mom has come to some realizations about herself. “After Carly was diagnosed, her doctor looked at me and said, ‘You know, this tends to run in families.’ It was like somebody flipped a light switch.” Josie is hopeful that she can get some help with her own organization issues. “Maybe I’ll finally be able to finish writing the book I started six years ago.”