My 10 year old daughter was diagnosed with ADHD about 6 months ago. And although hers wouldn’t be considered a “late” diagnosis, had I understood how ADHD often presents in girls, I could have had her evaluated and treated much sooner. Both she and our family struggled for years, and I deeply regret not recognizing that she needed help, not just tolerance of behaviors causing us all stress. She is now under the care of a psychiatrist as well as a counselor. Both medication and therapy are working to make her a happier, calmer, and more emotionally regulated little girl.
We often think of ADHD in terms of school performance and behavior. The stereotype of a child with ADHD is one who is constantly moving, can’t sit still, struggles academically, and is a behavior problem in class. Most of the time, this doesn’t describe my daughter. Her grades are good, and her teachers rave about her behavior and helpfulness. However, the lesser known symptoms of ADHD, especially those seen often in girls, make a huge impact on her everyday life.
ADHD in girls often shows up in emotions. Instead of being hyperactive, girls may be hyperemotional. My daughter has low frustration tolerance along with perfectionist tendencies. Combining the two results in emotional meltdowns over seemingly small problems or failures, such as us asking her to get off her tablet to take a bath, or her striking out in a softball game. The other side of this spectrum is the extreme silliness she exhibits when she is overtired or in an uncomfortable situation. Thankfully, in the 6 months she has been on medication and in therapy, we have seen her make huge strides in regulating her emotions. She now has chemical help as well as skills to appropriately handle disappointment and frustration.
Time Blindness and Distraction
Time blindness can be one of the most frustrating symptoms of ADHD in girls. People with time blindness do not have a concrete sense of time or its passing. They have a hard time grasping how long tasks or going to take, and this, coupled with being distracted much of the time, leads to chronic lateness. One of the biggest struggles in our home is getting our daughter to have any sense of urgency about getting ready to go somewhere. She has trouble remembering multiple tasks that need completing and gets distracted easily with toys or crafts that are more interesting to her than picking out her clothes for the day. We are still working on this, but giving her plenty of warnings and setting timers are helping.
Disorganized and Messy
When my daughter leaves a room, it looks as if a bomb exploded. Her bedroom is a constant disaster, and her backpack is stuffed with more papers, trinkets, and random items than anyone should be carrying around on their back. These scenarios are commonly seen with ADHD in girls, because ADHD causes problems with working memory. Some people have a very poor ability to finish out tasks, like taking dirty dishes to the sink. Cleaning is extremely difficult for my daughter, and she sometimes exhibits characteristics of hoarding (people with ADHD are more likely to become hoarders), like wanting to keep every scrap of paper from a craft, or every one of her outgrown clothes. Disorganization and messiness are some of the hardest struggles to conquer because they require so much parental intervention and consistency. We have to set clear, simple, and reasonable expectations of cleanliness, and let go of the rest.
Girls are diagnosed with the inattentive form of ADHD at higher rates than boys. Inattentiveness can include daydreaming during class, losing supplies or equipment needed for tasks, making careless mistakes in schoolwork, and the inability to focus for long periods of time. This is where ADHD in girls is most often seen in school, rather than in defiant behavior or hyperactivity. My daughter is in 4th grade this year, and as the schoolwork has gotten harder, I have definitely seen her struggle more. She can no longer rely on her intelligence alone to make good grades. We have not felt the need for any interventions at school yet, but are keeping that option open for the future should she need it.
As our society learns more about all kinds of neurodivergence, I hope that my daughter will grow up in a world that is accepting and understanding of her disorder. ADHD in girls and women is so misunderstood, the symptoms are often attributed to moral failings instead of an actual brain condition. My daughter is smart, spicy, athletic, creative, and kind. Her ADHD is a part of who she is, but it does not define her humanity, worth, or her right to love and acceptance.
Note: My daughter gave full consent to me writing this article. We both hope by sharing what we have learned about ADHD in girls will help other parents who may be struggling with their daughters but haven’t yet recognized what they might be dealing with.