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Does My Daughter Have ADHD?

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When you think about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), your natural tendency may be to envision a little boy who falls out of his seat at school, or who asks a ton of questions while his teacher is presenting a lesson. You may even imagine a teenage boy who is lost in his thoughts during math class and misses the lesson, and then doesn’t know how to complete his homework. But ADHD doesn’t just affect boys; it also affects girls, and it’s not always that easy to spot. In fact, it’s very easy to miss.

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With girls, they tend to overcompensate for their inattentiveness, impulsivity or need for motion by verbalizing what sounds like good reasons. For example, “I didn’t take out the garbage because I was helping my sister with her math homework.” This sounds legitimate but the underlying reason is that she may have lost focus while working on her assignment or completing a task and found something that caught her attention at that moment. Girls also overcompensate by working for long hours on a task or assignment and ultimately complete it well, but the time and effort it takes to reach the endpoint is exorbitant and exhausting. She also may be chatty, speaking her mind on topics of interest. She may appear to be social and friendly, which is another way that we, as parents, may not take note. Girls with ADHD are also sensitive and can become easily upset or tearful. They can be shy and slow to warm up in social situations, and have a few friends with whom they feel comfortable or are similar to them.

Girls with ADHD may also hyperfocus on subjects or activities that come easily to them, and they are able to start and finish a task or assignment because they feel confident about their ability and are proud of the finished product. The ability to hyperfocus is also another factor that helps to disguise ADHD in girls. Girls with ADHD also tend to feel anxious about their struggles with attention and starting and completing a task, which is also an internalized response. They may dread assignments that require writing or that are multi-step because they know that it will take them a long period of time to finish due to being distracted along the way.  They worry about letting people down around them such as their teachers or parents. They want to start but they don’t know where to start. And when their anxiety is untreated and unrecognized for a long time, girls can develop depression about their silent and internalized struggles.

Although competent and well-spoken, many girls with ADHD often go unnoticed and their self-esteem suffers. Girls attribute their struggles and oftentimes to their own weaknesses, boys externalize their areas of weakness. For example, a boy may blame the teacher for creating a test that is “too hard,” but a girl may blame herself by calling herself “stupid” or believing that she had not prepared enough. Girls tend to also have a higher level of social awareness and may take note that their areas of struggle are not the same areas of struggle for other girls in their grade or their age. As a result, they attribute this to a defect in their character, ability or skills and feel inferior or less intelligent than their peers.

When a girl is hyperactive or impulsive, others may attribute this to poor parenting or not enough limits; the child is “spoiled.” Sadly, we hold societal expectations that “boys will be boys” and will do “boy things” and the expectation is that girls have better self-control and are quieter. This further contributes to a girl’s perception that she is “bad” or she is doing something ” wrong.” We expect boys to have ADHD but we don’t expect the same of girls.

Here are some Red Flag Signs:

  • A messy room, desk or backpack
  • Disorganized but can still find things
  • Unaware of time
  • On the go or busy
  • A daydreamer
  • Feeling stressed often
  • Feeling anxious often
  • Feeling overwhelmed often
  • Speaking often and a lot
  • Always losing their belongings or forgetting them at home, at school, or at a friend’s house

If any of the above resonates with you about your daughter, reach out to your pediatrician and gain feedback from your child’s teacher(s). Ask specific questions, such as:

  • What are my daughter’s strengths?
  • What are my daughter’s weaknesses?
  • How does she interact with her peers in class? During recess? During lunch?
  • Does she struggle to start an assignment?
  • Does she struggle to maintain her attention and finish an assignment or task?
  • How does she compare to her female peers?
  • How does she react when she makes a mistake?
  • Does she seem anxious?

You may also wish to consult with a psychologist who can help you to translate your observations of your daughter’s strengths and weaknesses as well as teacher feedback. This will ultimately help you to establish a diagnosis if one exists, and gain the necessary supports, program, and accommodations that your child will need in school.

Photo credit: diego_cervo/Getty Images

Originally published: May 9, 2021
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