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Detecting ADHD in Our Daughters

ADHD is by no means a disorder exclusive to boys; girls are just as likely to have problems with inattention and impulse control.  However, ADHD manifests itself differently between the two genders, and the traditional understanding of ADHD is still predominantly male.  Whereas boys with ADHD tend to have disruptive, hyperactive behavior and lack of focus, ADHD often manifests itself in girls through low self-esteem, anxiety, excessive talking, and depression.  Studies show that four out of ten teachers have a tougher time detecting ADHD symptoms among their female students, because the symptoms usually express themselves as emotional problems, with ADHD undetected beneath them.  Whereas ADHD boys tend to be fidgety and aggressive, girls with the disorder just sit at their desk and daydream. They have just as much difficulty paying attention and controlling their impulses, but few parents or teachers suspect they have a problem because they aren't as hyperactive.

There's one other reason why ADHD tends to go undiagnosed among girls.  Girls are socialized to want to please, which means they get their schoolwork and chores done more often than boys do.  They try harder to make up for their shortcomings so they can fit in with their peers, despite the awareness that they might be different.  As a result, ADHD and learning disorders often go undiagnosed until middle school, high school, or college, when they can no longer keep up with academic responsibilities and social pressure.

It's important to detect and treat ADHD as early as late childhood, before the symptoms start to affect girls later in life.  Studies show that girls with ADHD are more likely to repeat a year at school than boys.  They are also at risk for anxiety, mood disorders, and self-esteem problems, which may potentially lead to drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, and other destructive behaviors during the adolescent years.

Evaluating a child for ADHD is a complex process that requires many kinds of tests, but here are some general warning signs that can help you detect ADHD in your daughter.

Inability to sustain friendships

Girls with ADHD are more likely to have difficulties making friends than boys who have ADHD. Female friendships require far more sophisticated standards that a girl with ADHD might not be able to meet. As a result, she might feel more anxious and demoralized than the rest of her peers.


Depression is the first diagnosis women receive before their ADHD symptoms come to the surface, often the result of their inability to "fit in" with their peers.

Non-stop talking

If hyperactivity in boys manifests itself as fidgeting or the inability to sit still, hyperactivity in girls might manifest itself in a less physical sense. Girls with ADHD tend to be extremely talkative "social butterflies," always jumping from one topic to another during conversations, interrupting people, or blurting out hurtful statements without thinking.

Poor school performance

Extremely low grades are always a cause for concern, but take your child to see a specialist if you see a significant drop in her school performance, especially if this occurs in late elementary school or high school.