ADHD in Girls: What You Wish You Knew

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I have been noticing that more females are seeking help for attention deficit (ADHD) in their twenties. Many of these young women are now in college struggling with anxiety and lack of productivity. Often their parents missed their symptoms as a child and they went undiagnosed. ADHD in girls can be missed.

An artistic rendering of ADHD

ADHD begins in childhood, and it can creep up during times when demands increase and resources are most needed, like during college and at the workplace. It is easier to miss ADHD in girls at school, especially if they are smart and behave well. Girls can camouflage symptoms better and compensate well for their difficulties.

Here are some symptoms that should not be dismissed:

  • Anxiety when completing tasks under pressure (e.g., timed tests or when rushed to do something, even putting on clothes)
  • Impulsivity (e.g., interrupting others, blurting out answers without waiting their turn)
  • Taking a long time to get dressed in the morning
  • Difficulty paying attention during challenging academic tasks
  • Seemingly odd social skills
  • Poor sleep pattern (e.g., sleeps enough hours but wakes up too tired)
  • Difficulty regulating emotions or becoming easily upset (usually considered a very emotional child)
  • Difficulty changing their minds and moving on (can be seen as stubbornness)
  • Not aware of how their own behavior impacts others (e.g., crying very loud in class)
  • Also, not aware of how their behavior impacts them socially
  • Difficulty writing notes from the board and following the teacher’s pace
  • Needing lots of verbal prompts and reminders to either begin or finish tasks (e.g., taking and finishing a shower, getting dressed, starting and completing homework)
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts in a written format or difficulty writing a story
  • Sensory difficulties (e.g., bothered by noises, lights, crowded environments)
  • Difficulty following the steps necessary to complete tasks
  • Excelling academically when given enough time to complete classwork or tests but failing when not given extra time
  • Difficulty with working memory tasks (e.g., learning the multiplication tables, remembering more than one-step instructions)
  • Daydreaming in class or during homework assignments
  • Easily frustrated when met with challenging tasks
  • Immature for their age when compared to same-age peers

A woman expressing frustration

The list can go on. Many of the above challenges are deficits in executive functioning (EF) skills, which are essential skills to thrive on a daily basis. Imagine the airport control tower suddenly stopped working. There would be multiple accidents due to a lack of properly timed execution and orders for airlines to depart or arrive. EF skills are the control tower of the mind. Without strongly developed EF skills the person struggles to complete daily demands.

An image of an airport control tower

Here are some recommendations:

  1. It is always important to rule out medical issues, such as vision, hearing, or sleep problems. Therefore, it is important to seek consultation from specialists in these areas first. 
  2. Poor sleep leads to multiple problems and there is one type of ADHD that is related to a poor sleep pattern. A sleep study can help solve this puzzle. 
  3. Consult closely with the teacher if you are noticing any of the problems listed above. Teachers are a great source of information since they spend so much time with children during challenging tasks.  
  4. Seek an observation from a provider that specializes in ADHD, namely a functional behavior assessment (FBA). An FBA can give you useful information about your child’s behavior and the function of that behavior. 
  5. Help the child with tutoring when you first start noticing academic struggles.
  6. Seek a psychological evaluation to rule out ADHD. Early diagnosis leads to a better prognosis. Understanding why a person is struggling is very liberating. 
  7. Seek the help of a neurologist for medication management. Medicine for ADHD can help a child focus better, which in turn will lead to a more fulfilling life.
  8. Seek therapy to learn to overcome anxiety and the stress of daily life as a woman with ADHD.

Whether you seek the natural route or the medical route, remember that any health problem is more manageable when you seek assistance from specialists. Also, waiting for a child to outgrow symptoms can backfire. Things don’t tend to get better unless you do something different. 

If you are a woman living with any of the above problems and you suspect you went undiagnosed as a girl with ADHD, there is still time to feel better. If you feel that life is becoming too hard to manage or even completing simple tasks is too difficult, seek help from a professional. A psychologist, psychiatrist, or even your general doctor can be your first stop.

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