Understanding ADHD in Girls
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most talked about and possibly least stigmatized neurological conditions. However, when it comes to girls, ADHD is also subject to gender inequalities. Felecia Hoey, MSc., Registered Provincial Psychologist, hosted a webinar through Community Education Service where she went in-depth about ADHD, its symptoms, how it impacts girls, and how you can support your daughter(s).
Core Symptoms of ADHD
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder where individuals display a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity. Such patterns interfere with daily functioning and development. ADHD is diagnosed in childhood and continues to impact individuals into adulthood. ADHD falls into three core symptoms, which are:
- Inattention: easily distracted, forgetful, difficulty paying attention, carelessness, inorganization, poor listening, task avoidance
- Hyperactivity: fidgety, overactive, excessive talking, out of seat
- Impulsivity: acting without thinking, cannot wait for turn, frequent interpreting
When it comes to receiving a diagnosis, individuals are either predominantly inattentive meaning they present 6 or more of the inattention symptoms and less than 6 of the hyperactive and/or impulsive symptoms. They can also be predominantly hyperactive/impulsive meaning they present 6 or more of the hyperactive and/or impulsive symptoms and less than 6 of the inattentive symptoms. Finally, there is also a combined presentation where individuals present 6 or more of the inattentive symptoms and the hyperactive and/or impulsive symptoms. To receive an ADHD diagnosis, the symptoms must be present for at least 6 months before the age of 12 and be present in two or more settings along with clear evidence that the symptoms negatively impact academic, social, or occupational life.
Developmental Differences Between Girls And Boys
Girls and boys have developmental differences and these differences are also present when it comes to how girls present ADHD. Girls are better at masking their symptoms and that translates to more focus on boys when it comes to diagnosing ADHD. Girls tend to present more inattentive symptoms whereas boys tend to present more hyperactive and/or impulsive symptoms. When girls present common ADHD symptoms, it is often dismissed as female personality traits or behaviours and that leads to a lack of diagnosis or recognition of symptoms. This, in turn, can negatively impact their daily lives and functioning as it delays them receiving treatment.
When girls present ADHD symptoms they can tend to get labelled a variety of labels from “perfectionist” if they struggle with tasks, “tomboys” if they are hyperactive, or “bossy” if they take over conservations to lack of impulse control. The pressures on girls cause them to mask their symptoms and develop coping strategies. The misidentification of symptoms and lack of acknowledgement of ADHD in girls can lead to the development of further symptoms such as depression and anxiety. The culmination of symptoms and lack of treatment of ADHD as the main issues can impact girls negatively later, leading to difficulty in school, lower graduation rates, few peers, and low self-esteem to name a few.
To combat these issues, parents must take notice, intervene at a young age, and seek professional assessment. It is important to try to accommodate your child, through adapting your parenting strategies and seeking accommodations at school to combat difficulties in learning. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle for your child through exercise, sleep, and medication will go a long way. Finally, when it comes to supporting children with ADHD, patience and clear communication will be two of the most helpful tools.