Identifying AD/HD in Girls

Girls exhibit AD/HD symptoms in a much more subtle way, especially those with the primarily inattentive form of the condition, which is by far the more prevalent type of AD/HD found in girls. As a result, many girls with this type of AD/HD remain undiagnosed and untreated while in primary and secondary school. Although those with hyperactive symptoms are more likely to be identified and treated while still in primary school, there are others with the primarily hyperactive form of AD/HD who do not exhibit the more recognized symptoms, at least not to the same degree that is expected, and these girls often do not get an AD/HD diagnosis either. The criteria for AD/HD - as laid out in the DSM IV TR - have been developed with boys in mind, although this is not specifically stated. Consequently, AD/HD in girls can be missed if a diagnosing practitioner adheres strictly to the existing criteria. In their book, Understanding AD/HD in Girls, Kathleen Nadeau, Patricia Quinn M.D. and Ellen Littman, Ph.D. have created a list of criteria for identifying girls – at different age levels - with various types of AD/HD. This comes from years of experience counseling, assessing and treating girls and women with AD/HD and has become a useful and more appropriate diagnostic tool for practitioners.

Indicators of AD/HD in Girls with Primarily Inattentive Type AD/HD may:

  • be quiet and dreamy;
  • have a tendency to doodle in class;
  • appear to be listening in class while their thoughts are somewhere else;
  • be procrastinators;
  • seem anxious and depressed;
  • leave larger projects to the last minute;
  • be poor timekeepers; seem organized when they are not;
  • be overwhelmed about the demands made on them as they progress through school;
  • may experience test anxiety;
  • have poor listening skills;
  • find it difficult to follow instructions;
  • be perfectionists; and/or
  • experience stress in a more intense way than their non-AD/HD peers

Girls with Combined Hyperactive-Inattentive Type AD/HD may:

  • have a higher activity level than the daydreamers;
  • be excitable and emotional;
  • interrupt others frequently;
  • jump from topic to topic in conversation;
  • be talk a lot at times when she should be quiet
  • have trouble telling a story;
  • have poor listening skills;
  • be guided by what others think;
  • tend to be aggressive towards teachers she does not like;
  • not be achieving at ability level;
  • have dramatic friendships; and/or
  • adopt a “silly” personality to mask deficits.
  • S/he exhibits obsessive-compulsive traits.

Be Vigilant ! If you suspect that your daughter has AD/HD, have her tested by a physician who understands AD/HD in girls. If she is diagnosed, give her as much information as possible about how it could affect her life and continually provide opportunities to raise her self-esteem. Encourage her to analyse how she best learns and share this with her teachers. Depending on how her condition affects her academic performance, provide a tutor for her at home and/or at school to help her with her weaker subjects. Last but not least, provide an AD/HD coach to help her with organization and time management. Have realistic expectations for her; let her guide you in this as she learns how to make the most of her strengths while minimizing the effect of her weaknesses. Show her that you have an understanding of her difficulties, but let her know too that AD/HD is not an excuse to be pampered. Finally, help her make the right career choice based on her strengths and weaknesses. This is very important for girls who have AD/HD.


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