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ADHD can present itself differently in women and girls that can make it harder to detect and diagnose. But there are ways to overcome the unique challenges women and girls with ADHD face and help them to better cope with their symptoms.

by Robert G. Kohn D.O.

Kohn Brain Clinic

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that interferes with daily functioning and can cause issues in school, at work, and in various social situations. In women and girls, the hyperactivity component that is most often associated with ADHD tends to be less pronounced and replaced instead with a quieter inattentiveness. Because of this, ADHD is not as easily noticed and is often misinterpreted as misbehavior or other personality flaws. In addition, women with ADHD are more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and depression.


The good news is that these gender disparities are now more clearly understood so that girls with ADHD can be diagnosed earlier with the goal of offering treatment at an early age before it has a negative effect on their self image. If you are a woman with ADHD or have a daughter you suspect has ADHD, there is hope and support available to manage your symptoms for a more fulfilling and productive life. 

Girls with ADHD can go unnoticed in grade school

Young girls with ADHD in elementary school are more often quiet and inattentive than ADHD boys. Boys are more often noticeable because they tend to be more disruptive. By age ten or eleven, in later elementary school grades, problems surface because homework now becomes a struggle; i.e., two or more hours to finish a twenty minute assignment is fraught with yelling and tears. Even if your child is getting an average grade on tests and the teacher does not see a problem, a trend is developing that sets the tone for more difficulties ahead in middle school. Sustained attention has become a problem. Some children may have reading problems because their vision processing is impaired and they struggle with reading. This should be evaluated.

By middle school the gap between girls with ADHD/ADD and their counterpart widens. With multiple classes, more activities in and out of school, the teen girl's ability to manage time efficiently and to keep "stuff" organized may worsen. As a girl's appearance outwardly changes and menstruation begins, an inward spiral towards mood control worsens. Time management, running late, organizational problems, losing things such as homework, shirts, shoes, cell phones, etc., become more apparent. Self image, confidence and esteem start trending down. Family members might observe a more angry and irritable girl and explain this as an adjustment to hormone changing. Reaching a correct diagnosis of ADHD/ADD requires a broad assessment from open minded and informed parents, teachers along with optimal measuring tools; rating forms and testing.

In high school, ADHD symptoms are now apparent

High school girls may present with a decline in grades from middle school. Some that were "A" students may become "C" students. This may be the first time school performance becomes difficult. Why? Some girls are more distracted in class. Some prioritize things other than school work such as boys. Some refuse to follow good sleep habits and go to school exhausted and unable to learn. Some willingly want medicine to improve their attention and academics. These girls may be open-minded to work with a doctor to find the best medication with the least side effects and best benefit for problems of attention, focus, distraction, impulse control, etc.

Untreated girls with ADHD/ADD wander into the murky waters tying their self esteem to sexuality and peer group rules. These girls lack the self esteem that allows for good decision making. Impulsive decisions may lead to poor consequences. A motor vehicle accident may occur if attention is diverted. Perhaps while driving you were searching for makeup in the purse and took your eyes off the road, answered a cell phone or ran through a light or intersection because you were preoccupied with a boy.

College women with ADHD are challenged with time management and setting boundaries

In college a common concern is difficulty completing assignments on time. Here, the school setting is so different from home or high school. You must work within a schedule and adjust to changes efficiently. Poor time management skills go hand in hand with impulsive behavior. In ADHD/ADD activities of high interest take priority over activities of importance; ie dorm parties or late night pizza with friends, using illegal drugs and drinking alcohol. This kind of behavior prevents completing course work successfully. In college, it is unlikely your professor will reach out to you and ask you to get evaluated for ADHD/ADD.

A girl with a strong sense of self esteem is more decisive with her behavior including her sexuality, dating, and school performance. Managing time efficiently, wise decision making and preventing complications from impulsive behavior are benefits that come from good treatment of ADHD/ADD.


Career-minded women with ADHD struggle to juggle all of life's responsibilities

As women advance into a career, in the home or out, they are faced with managing more and more responsibilities and choices. Untreated ADHD/ADD presents as either multiple failures to manage a job, romance or family. Life becomes an exhausting task of "working twice as hard for half as much" even if you can keep every responsibility in order. Romance fades, intimacy is lost, parenting, marriage and career become more and more difficult to maintain.

Anxiety and a sense of inadequacy may evolve into depression. The decision to begin antidepressant treatment may overlook the root cause of ADHD/ADD. A step wise approach to making a better treatment plan must begin with a clear history; one that identifies the core features of selective difficulties with attention, motivation and impulse control. Most women never present with hyperactivity and exclude themselves from conveying important information that helps the doctor make a correct diagnosis.

Dealing with everything that life throws at you is challenging enough. But women and girls with ADHD have specific struggles that if addressed early, can reduce frustration and the internalization of negative self-talk, and empower you to feel more in control of your health. Kohn Brain Clinic can help you manage your ADHD symptoms and create an actionable plan to keep you on track.

Benefits of Treatment

Improved Focus

The ability to stay focused on one task at a time.

Emotional Control

The ability to stay calm and think through problems.

More Productive

The ability to better manage your time and not be rushed.


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Kohn Brain Clinic is focused on treating the whole person, not just the symptoms. After a series of ADHD/ADD tests and evaluations, we'll work together on a comprehensive, medically-based approach to address your specific cognitive needs.

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