ADHD signs in girls

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When ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is mentioned, most people imagine someone who

  • is excited and fidgety
  • is unable to sit still
  • interrupts conversations often
  • acts impulsively
  • cannot commit to/complete given tasks

The person in this image is also generally male. In Malaysia, the documented prevalence rate of ADHD is 3.9%. Experts think it may actually be higher due to unrecorded cases. In children who are diagnosed below the age of 12, the rate is higher in boys (8-10%) than in girls (4%). But ADHD is equally common in both boys and girls. Why does this happen?

ADHD shows up in different ways for girls and can go unnoticed because of the way we bring up boys and girls differently, and the way we judge boys and girls differently too. A girl who has trouble focusing on work but stays quiet in class may be labelled a ‘daydreamer’ or ‘flighty’. It is considered part of her personality instead of part of a problem.

Types of ADHD

There are three types of ADHD, based on how they affect a person’s behaviour. They are:

  • inattentive – the person finds it difficult to pay attention but does not show disruptive behaviour

 

  • hyperactive and impulsive – the person can focus and pay attention but can disrupt situations with hyperactive or impulsive behaviour

 

  • combined inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive – the person has all the above symptoms

Girls are more likely to have inattentive ADHD, which can show up as dreaminess or shyness. Boys more typically have hyperactive and impulsive ADHD or a combined presentation.

The main signs of ADHD

Signs and symptoms of ADHD can be divided into a few main categories. If you have a daughter or relative with a few of these signs, it is not a guarantee that they have ADHD, but it’s worth looking into further:

Inattention

  • difficulty focusing
  • doesn’t appear to be listening
  • daydreams often

Distractability

  • easily distracted
  • frequently switches between multiple activities
  • compensating by hyper-focusing on a single area. This focus often “covers” for other faults e.g. a girl who’s an excellent chess player but can’t keep her room clean or finish her homework on time

Hyperactivity

  • always in motion
  • unable to sit still
  • constantly doodling or fidgeting

Impulsivity

  • lack of impulse control
  • says things without considering their effect
  • talks a lot and dominates conversations
  • frequently interrupts others
  • acts without prior thought
  • not good at listening

Executive malfunction

  • poor time management
  • unable to complete tasks
  • disorganized – messy room, forgetfulness
  • slow to process information or instructions

Sensitivity

  • sensitivity to noise, texture and emotions
  • cries easily
  • hyperreactive
  • easily hurt by rejection

People with ADHD are also at higher risk for mental health issues including stress, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.

Finding support

A girl with inattentive ADHD may not be butting into conversations, disrupting her classes or making a lot of noise. But this is also how her struggles may go unnoticed. If you think your daughter has ADHD, it’s important to provide her with the support she needs to succeed at school, at home and socially. There are various resources and support groups online and offline, a few of which are:

Girls and women with ADHD may not fit the loud, hyperactive stereotype, but they face the same struggles in completing tasks, relating to others and building healthy, fulfilling lives. As we do better at recognising how ADHD shows up differently in different people, we can also do better at making sure that both men and women with ADHD can find the support and treatment they need.

References

Ava L. (2014) More attention needed for ADHD [Accessed: 2 Jan 2021] Available at: https://www.thestar.com.my/news/community/2014/03/02/more-attention-needed-for-adhd-lack-of-awareness-facilities-the-bane-of-better-awareness-of-disorder/ 

Dan B., MD, Jennifer R.M. (2015) How ADHD Is Different for Girls [Accessed: 2 Jan 2021] Available at: https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/childhood-adhd/features/adhd-different-girls

José J. B., Patrick E. S., Ligia C., Maritza R., Rafael R., Lymaries P., Adrianne A., Pedro G., Glorisa C. (2007) ADHD and gender: are risks and sequela of ADHD the same for boys and girls? [Accessed: 2 Jan 2021] Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2007.01750.x 

Keath L. (2020) 20 Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Girls [Accessed: 2 Jan 2021] Available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/adhd-in-girls-symptoms-of-adhd-in-girls-20547

Noelle F. (2020) The lost girls: ‘Chaotic and curious, women with ADHD all have missed red flags that haunt us’ [Accessed: 2 Jan 2021] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/nov/02/the-lost-girls-chaotic-and-curious-women-with-adhd-all-have-missed-red-flags-that-haunt-us

Rae J., MS (2020) ADHD in girls: What you need to know [Accessed: 2 Jan 2021] Available at: https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/add-adhd/adhd-in-girls 

Timothy J.L., PhD, Jerisha P.G. (2016) Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Girls: Symptoms, Treatments, and More [Accessed: 2 Jan 2021] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/adhd-in-girls 

Zia A. (2019) 20 Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Girls [Accessed: 2 Jan 2021] Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/315009