When you picture a child with ADHD, a few images may come to mind: A kid who doesn’t ever seem to sit still. A child who can’t stop interrupting the teacher or goofing off in class. A C- and D-student who never manages to finish a single homework assignment.
Symptoms like these are easy to spot, but they’re also much less common for girls with the disorder. And that’s why their parents, teachers, and others have a harder time knowing when they have it, says Michael Manos, PhD, head of the ADHD Center for Evaluation and Treatment at Cleveland Clinic.
“Kids who have problems with attention rather than hyperactivity, on the other hand, are barely noticed, and yet those ADHD symptoms are much more prevalent in girls than in boys.”
Boys with ADHD tend to have a lot of behavior problems, and the key issue is often how their disorder affects others, says Patricia Quinn, MD, co-author of Understanding Girls with ADHD. With girls, it’s more about how their disorder affects themselves.
Rather than troublemakers, girls with ADHD tend to be daydreamers. “Your daughter may do what she’s told, but she might have difficulty focusing, paying attention, or finishing her work,” Manos says.
Still, bad grades aren’t always a telltale sign. “Girls sometimes continue to do well in school, particularly if they’re very bright or hard working,” Quinn says. “They compensate. Parents might not realize there’s a problem, but the girls recognize that they need a lot more help than anyone else, and they realize that they’re different.”
If schoolwork or other tasks just seem harder for your daughter than they do for other kids -- if she’s staying up late doing homework, if she’s only able to study when conditions are “just so,” if she’s dreading going to school -- those are signals that there may be something going on, Quinn says.
Beyond Behavior and Attention
Although girls’ ADHD symptoms are more likely to be overlooked than boys’, it doesn’t mean the disorder affects them less. Studies have shown that girls with ADHD have a harder time than boys in some ways. They’re more likely to have anxiety and depression, as well as low self-esteem.