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Though there is a movement afoot among parents, educators, and therapists to create a separate diagnostic protocol for females and males with ADHD, the current diagnostic criteria are biased toward symptoms exhibited by boys.  This is despite the fact that females and males often exhibit very different symptoms of this learning disorder.  Not only do the experienced symptoms of this disorder vary from person to person and from gender to gender, but the expression of those symptoms can vary as well. All cases of ADHD consist of some mix of inattentiveness and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity.  Some young people experience mix of the two sets of symptoms (called “combined ADHD”), while others experience only inattentiveness (once referred to as “ADD” but now called “inattentive ADHD”) or only hyperactive and/or impulsive symptoms (called “hyperactive-impulsive ADHD”).

Since the hyperactive-impulsive symptoms of ADHD are the easiest to identify, those with combined ADHD and hyperactive-impulsive ADHD are more frequently and accurately diagnosed than those with inattentive ADHD.  These symptoms include fidgeting, speaking out of turn, talking excessively, interrupting, difficulty engaging in relaxing activities, and other highly visible symptoms.  Girls with ADHD tend to have the inattentive variety with much subtler symptoms.   Adolescent girls and young women are therefore often misdiagnosed as having primarily a depressive or anxiety disorder when the underlying problem is a long-term struggle with ADHD.  In addition to presenting subtle or easily misinterpreted symptoms, adolescent girls and young women with ADHS may go undiagnosed for other reasons as well.  Females may work harder than males to hide academic difficulties.  As part of their efforts to please, bright girls may work very hard and successfully to compensate for their ADHD, delaying the identification of the disorder until academic or work challenges reach a point where the ADHD becomes disabling.  Sometimes this does not occur until adolescence or young adulthood.

The symptoms listed below are indicative of possible ADHD.  If your daughter exhibits several of these symptoms, exploring this diagnosis through testing from a professional educator or psychologist may be in order.  The good news is that ADHD, when properly diagnosed, can be effectively addressed through coaching, instruction, counseling, accommodations, diet, and sometimes medication.  It can be an enormous relief for a young woman to realize that there is an explanation for her longstanding social, emotional, and learning difficulties—an explanation that can be effectively treated.  The following symptoms (a partial list) are indicators of possible ADHD in girls and young women:

  • Inattention to details
  • Frequent careless mistakes in school or other activities
  • Messy schoolwork or work
  • Constantly distracted by seemingly irrelevant stimuli* Interrupts more important tasks to attend to trivial noises or events that are easily ignored by others
  • Difficulty sustaining attention on tasks or activities
  • Frequently fails to complete schoolwork or paperwork
  • Difficulty performing tasks that require concentration
  • Moves from one activity to another without completing them
  • Procrastination
  • Disorganized
  • Forgetfulness in everyday activities
  • The tendency to leave tasks incomplete (e.g. homework or chores)
  • Frequent shifts in conversation
  • Not listening to others
  • Losing interest/attention during conversations
  • Missing details, instructions, or parameters of activities in social situations