Quiet Symptoms: How ADHD Affects Girls Differently than Boys

ADHD in girls is often more internalized than it is with boys.

I wonder at how others seem to fit into the world. They connect, like pieces in a puzzle. I am that piece that looks like it might fit until you realize the edges aren’t quite right. Sometimes I can be forced into place. The fit is passable, if not entirely comfortable. Other times, the lines are incompatible, or my angles too pointed. Perhaps I’ll fit somewhere else. Maybe I’ll just remain in the pile, never incorporated into the big picture.

I am different. I might present as merely rude or clueless, inattentive or excessively talkative. My otherness isn’t immediately evident. I am more parts tiresome than strange.

“Suddenly, the last four decades of my life made sense in a way they never had. While I always knew I was different, ADHD was something I’d never considered.”
My acceptance of this is sometimes mistaken for self-deprecation. It is, in fact, self-awareness. I am equally aware that I am smart and resourceful. I am talented, attractive, competent, and very funny. I am the biggest personality in the room. Still, I am different. Accepting—even loving—who I am doesn’t magically normalize me.

I realized by the time I was five that my brain operated differently than others. I just didn’t know how, or why. When my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD when I was in my 40s, I felt like a window had opened. Suddenly, the last four decades of my life made sense in a way they never had. While I always knew I was different, ADHD was something I’d never considered.

This is likely because ADHD typically looks different in girls than in boys. Boys with ADHD often have behavioral problems, while girls may simply be pegged as “daydreamers”. For boys, the catalyst for diagnosis and treatment is frequently the result of how their disorder affects others. In girls, however, the symptoms tend to affect only themselves.

Often, ADHD is identified in girls when their lack of focus affects their performance in school. However, because some students can compensate for an attention deficit if they are particularly intelligent or tenacious, they may never be identified at all. With no behavioral issues or poor performance to sound the alarm, often only the child herself may recognize she has a problem or needs extra help.

Even if a girl is still doing well in school, ADHD may affect her in other ways. It is believed that girls with ADHD are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem than boys. Girls with ADHD are also more likely to self-harm or suffer from eating disorders than girls without the disorder.

ADHD in Girls VS. Boys

GIRLS

  • Less likely to “act out” than boys
  • Symptoms are more internal, tend to affect only themselves
  • Display a lack of focus in school, but may still be performing highly
  • More likely to also suffer from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, eating disorders

BOYS

  • More likely to have obvious behavioral problems, hyperactivity, or impulsivity
  • Symptoms are more external, tend to affect themselves and others
  • Lack of focus plus behavioral issues makes diagnosis more common
  • More likely to show aggression
Learn more: https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/adhd-symptoms-in-girls-and-boys#1

I was one of those girls who still managed to excel in school but was affected by ADHD in other ways. My teens were spent in a cloud of confusion. Because of my inability to focus, I drifted through my days, feeling as if I were watching the world go by through a thick fog. I spent a decade overwhelmed by depression. When I asked for help, the response was that nothing was wrong with me and I was only being “dramatic”.

I remembered that when my happy, confident daughter began to struggle. I wanted her path to be easier.

We landed with a wonderful counselor who had ADHD herself. She had been diagnosed as an adult, and her adolescence looked a lot like mine. Her insider’s perspective was helpful in explaining some of my daughter’s mystifying behavior.

If you suspect your daughter may have ADHD, you may start by speaking with child’s pediatrician, who may also refer you to a child psychiatrist or other mental health provider. It is important to consult a provider with experiencing diagnosing and treating the disorder. Make sure you are comfortable with the provider you choose. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Although I’m now comfortable in my own skin, I’ll always regret the time I lost. I have always wondered what might have been different had I received assistance when I was young. My daughter isn’t thrilled with every challenge she faces, but she understands and embraces her differences. Intervention made that possible.

Other Articles of Interest:

Parents of Special Needs Kids Want You to Know These 3 Things

Robyn Frank Smith is a retired attorney and mediator who now teaches Conflict Resolution at the university level. Though originally from Nashville, Tennessee, Robyn has lived in a variety of places (some more interesting than others), including Memphis, Washington, D.C., and the Republic of Singapore. Her hobbies include weightlifting, creating upcycled furniture and décor from found objects (she is currently working on a project with an Amish buggy door), and fighting about politics with strangers on Facebook. She also enjoys pretending she’s happy being a vegan, and traveling the world with her husband and teenaged daughter. She lives in Pennsylvania.

1 Comment

  • Sandy says:

    One of my friends having issues in concentrating. She has horrible mood swings. She doesn’t want to talk any body. Are these signs of depression or ADHD? How to help her?

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