Until a few years ago, there was very little research about girls and women with ADD/ADHD. During the past decade, the National Center for Gender Issues and ADHD (NCGIADD) started researching the similarities and differences in the symptoms of ADHD in girls when compared to boys. Surprisingly, the differences actually outnumber the similarities. Not surprising, these differences can have an impact treatment decisions for girls.
The parent of a girl with ADHD, Dr. Davenport, outlines the symptoms and needs of girls in this article.
Like men and boys, women and girls with ADHD are easily distracted by others around them. They are also often internally distracted, and may be called “daydreamers”, “spacey” or “scattered.” They show inconsistent alertness and effort, and they easily lose track of time. As a result, they have trouble finishing work, and complete tasks at the last-minute. Adding to this struggle, their room, locker, book-bag are often messy, and they have trouble finding things.
Unlike boys, ADHD girls will often expend extreme effort and mental energy to succeed at academic tasks: as a result, their challenges are identified later in life than boys. Despite (and because of) her unnoticed struggle to do well, a girl with ADD/ADHD may feel she is not effective at anything even though she has lots of talents and abilities. As a result, an ADHD girl may appear unsure, anxious, and “shy” in new situations and around new people, but at home or in familiar surroundings, she may talk non-stop about “everything” and “nothing” at the same time.
Most girls with ADHD are seldom considered “hyperactive.” They are usually considered “well-behaved” but they can be “hypersensitive,” often getting upset more easily, more quickly, and more intensely than others. This emotional reactivity tends to increase in ADHD girls during adolescence. As a result, they are more quickly hurt and their hurt feelings can rapidly escalate into impulsive over reactions that include yelling, screaming, and cursing at the ones who love and care about them the most. Often, after these short-lived outbursts, girls with ADHD are extremely remorseful and saddened by their lack of self-control in the moment.
Unfortunately, many of those who suffer the wrath of this impulsivity become unforgiving of these outbursts due to their misunderstandings of this aspect of ADHD in girls. As a result, private schools may privately ask them to leave and parents may openly hold them responsible for all the ills and dysfunctions of the family. This only serves to snuff out the ADHD girl’s hidden strengths and increase her sadness and worry.
Studies completed by the NCGIADD show that a staggering number of girls and women have been diagnosed with anxiety and mood disorders before their underlying ADHD was finally recognized. Recently, I have seen an unsettling trend in these girls being diagnosed with or being prescribed medications for bipolar disorder even though their emotional reactivity does not even come close to the multi-hours long “rages” seen in teens with this mood disorder.
As they get older, it is very important to monitor their symptoms as girls with ADD/ADHD may take unwarranted risks to try to fit in with their peers. As a result, they are at high risk for teenage pregnancy and substance abuse.
How do we Help Girls and Women with these Multiple Risks?