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ADHD Symptoms: How ADHD Differs in Boys & Girls

Experts look at gender differences in the three types of ADHD.
By Mary Anne Dunkin
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Several years ago, neurology researcher Robert J. Melillo was preparing a presentation for a parent-teacher organization on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and its treatment. He began to recognize the symptoms he was reading about in his own elementary-school-age son. 

"He was hyperactive and impulsive," recalls Melillo. "His teachers came to us and said he was having a hard time focusing in school. He was easily distractible, very energetic, and a risk taker."

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Melillo -- a chiropractor, author, and PhD candidate -- has since made it his life's work to better understand ADHD in order to help his own son as well as the growing number of other children diagnosed with ADHD (previously known as attention deficit disorder, or ADD).

The symptoms exhibited by his son -- hyperactivity and impulsive behaviors -- are perhaps the most visible symptoms of a problem that affects an estimated 8%-10% of school-age children. Parents often begin to suspect ADHD when they receive repeated calls or notes from their child's teacher saying he can't sit still or be quiet and his behavior is disrupting the class. And, yes, usually that child is a he.

ADHD Symptoms in Boys and Girls

"Boys are more likely to be diagnosed -- three boys to every girl," says Marjorie Montague, PhD, professor of special education at the University of Miami. "No one knows if it is more common in boys or just more likely to be diagnosed in them. It may just be that boys are referred more commonly by teachers," says Montague, whose research focuses on learning disabilities and emotional/behavioral disorders.

It may also be, at least partly, because people tend to think of ADHD in terms of the most well-known symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity -- symptoms more often exhibited in boys. But ADHD in children can also take other forms, particularly in girls. Forgetfulness, being easily distracted, losing or misplacing things, disorganization, academic underachievement, poor follow-through with assignments or tasks, poor concentration, and poor attention to detail are other ADHD symptoms.

Girls with ADHD may be more likely to be inattentive than hyperactive or impulsive. That may mean they are more likely to be underdiagnosed with the disorder. 

If you suspect that your child may have ADHD, it's important to understand the different forms it may take. There are three types of the disorder, which are characterized by different symptoms. To be diagnosed with ADHD, a child must exhibit these symptoms in more than one setting, such as home and school.

These are the three types of ADHD:

Hyperactivity-Impulsivity ADHD

Children -- usually boys -- with the hyperactivity-impulsivity form of ADHD are extremely active, says Dana Stempil Herzberg, who heads Lexis Preparatory School, a college-prep school in Scottsdale, Ariz. that focuses on children with ADHD. "Teachers recognize these kids as fidgety kids, kids that seem to be driven by a motor, constantly moving, not able to sit," she says.

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