Attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) appears differently in girls than in boys. This makes it more likely to go undiagnosed or be misdiagnosed.
A note on sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums.
In this article, we use “male” and “female” and “boy” and “girl” to refer to sex assigned at birth. This reflects existing research on childhood ADHD, which mainly uses “gender” to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that
Doctors more commonly diagnose ADHD in male children than female children. The CDC reports that doctors diagnosed around 13% of boys with DHD in 2016–2019, whereas only 6% of girls received the same diagnosis.
This has led many people to mistakenly believe that ADHD is a “boys’ disorder” that rarely occurs in girls. As a result, ADHD symptoms are more likely to go unnoticed or undiagnosed in girls.
This article examines the symptoms, causes, and treatments of ADHD in young female adults.
There are three types of ADHD:
- Inattentive only: The person has difficulty paying attention but does not tend to be disruptive.
- Hyperactive and impulsive: A person’s hyperactive and impulsive behavior can cause disruptions.
- Combined inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive: The person has all the above symptoms.
The main signs and symptoms of ADHD can apply to both boys and girls.
Boys are more likely than girls to receive a diagnosis of ADHD, but this may be because the condition often presents differently in girls.
The symptoms may be less obvious and may not fit the common stereotypes associated with ADHD. Typically, girls are more likely to have the inattentive form and less likely to show disruptive symptoms. These symptoms often make an ADHD diagnosis more obvious.
The following symptoms are
- Inattention: People with ADHD may find it hard to concentrate. They may be unable to focus long enough to complete a task at home or school.
- Distractibility: Outside occurrences or internal thoughts may easily distract the person.
- Hyperactivity: Some people with ADHD tend to move around, fidget, or appear restless.
- Impulsivity: Girls may experience strong emotions, which may leave them unable to slow down or think about what they say.
- Executive malfunctions: Organizational skills may pose a challenge. Girls with ADHD may have poor time management skills and find it hard to follow multi-step directions or complete tasks.
How symptoms change over time
Most people receive an ADHD diagnosis around
In younger children, hyperactivity and impulsivity are the
Inattention and impulsivity are the most common symptoms during adolescence. As people age, they may also
- autism spectrum disorder
- oppositional defiant disorder
- behavioral issues
- anxiety and depression
Undiagnosed ADHD can also lead to a person developing poor coping strategies and other complications. These
- having low self-esteem
- having high levels of stress
- finding it difficult to form and maintain relationships
- an increased risk of substance use disorders
- higher risk of eating disorders
Early signs of ADHD in girls include the following:
- difficulty keeping track of school assignments and deadlines, even if they are making a great effort to stay organized
- regularly running late, despite efforts to keep on schedule
- appearing to “daydream” and therefore missing out on information in class or other situations
- jumping from one topic of conversation to another without warning
- frequently interrupting people when they are talking
- being inattentive at school and home
- forgetting what they have just read or what another person has just said
The exact causes of ADHD are unclear. However, research shows that there may be a
Other factors that increase the risk of developing ADHD include:
- maternal drug use or smoking during pregnancy
- premature birth
- maternal exposure to environmental poisons during pregnancy
- environmental toxins
If a parent or other caregivers think a child has ADHD, they should consult a pediatrician, family doctor, or pediatric nurse practitioner.
Some pediatricians have specialist training in behavior and development, and many have at least a particular interest in the area. Other specialists include child psychiatrists, psychologists, and occupational therapists.
A person’s treatment will depend on their symptoms, age, life circumstances, and overall health.
Both stimulant and nonstimulant medications
Common medications for ADHD include:
Learn all you need to know about ADHD medications.
Therapy can help a person to better understand and ultimately manage their condition. It can also be an important method of helping parents and caregivers support the child.
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- social skills training
- behavioral therapy
- family therapy
Learn more about the different types of therapy.
Other treatment tips
- encouraging them to exercise or play a team sport
- providing regular opportunities to spend time outdoors and in nature
- learning more about nutrition and how eating habits affect ADHD symptoms
- encouraging rest and sleep
- establishing simple and predictable routines for meals, homework, play, and bed
- acknowledging and rewarding small achievements
- exploring professional treatment options
- reading relevant research, books, or articles
- finding suitable group behavioral therapy
- supporting time management by setting an alarm clock to time activities and deadlines
As the child enters adolescence and becomes more independent, she
This may include:
- understanding and accepting her challenges instead of judging and blaming herself
- identifying the sources of stress in daily life and making changes to lower stress levels
- simplifying her schedule as much as possible
- learning to ask clearly for structure and support from family and friends
- developing healthy self-care habits, such as cooking nutritious meals
- going to bed at a regular hour to ensure there is enough time to sleep
- focusing on the things and activities she loves and prioritizing those things
Parents, caregivers, and others within a person’s support network should be aware that the risks of substance use, impulsive actions, and pregnancy
ADHD can be challenging to diagnose, partly because some other disorders may have similar or overlapping symptoms. These include:
- autism spectrum disorder
- learning disorders
- social communication disorder
- disruptive, impulse control, and conduct disorder
Other conditions that may cause similar symptoms to ADHD include:
- anxiety disorder
- bipolar disorder
- hearing impairments
- lead toxicity
- seizure disorders
- sensory disorders
- sleep disorders
It may be necessary to rule out these conditions before diagnosing ADHD.
People exhibit symptoms of ADHD differently. Girls typically display less obvious symptoms of ADHD than boys and are less likely to receive a diagnosis.
However, ADHD is still common among young females. Doctors, parents, and caregivers must pay close attention to the individual circumstances of a person with ADHD to best support them and help manage their symptoms.
Medication and therapy are the first-line treatments for ADHD. However, the exact composition of a person’s treatment plan will depend on their circumstances.