ADHD Symptoms in Girls - 6 Major Signs from Reynolds Clinic

Closing Practice Letter

6 Ways To Spot ADHD In Girls

You might think that Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is only for boys but according to research, girls with ADHD struggle equally with boys. The only difference is the way they manifest the symptoms. While boys always stand out in the crowd because they have trouble paying attention, easily get distracted and tend to move a lot, girls with ADHD are less difficult to manage than boys because they are trained to please teachers and parents.

According to Dr. Kathleen Nadeau in her book Understanding Girls With AD/HD, girls are not as rebellious and defiant as boys. It is more difficult to spot girls with this disorder because their upbringing dictates them to try to behave at all times because that’s what society expects of them. However, they manifest this in other ways. According to Dr. Patricia Quinn, an expert on ADHD in girls, there is an equal ratio of boys and girls having Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder. They just behave differently.

A clinical psychologist based in Maryland, Dr. Kathleen Nadeau, backed up Quinn’s claims. She mentioned about how ADHD girls can be less focused, inattentive and disorganized. Girls don’t display much hyperactivity and impulsiveness like boys do. Because of the differences and the lack of visibility in the symptoms in girls, they are less likely to be referred for diagnosis. They don’t create many problems in the classroom and they are used to socializing with their teachers. In addition, girls usually get better grades and study harder than boys so when they start to manifest abnormality in behavior, teachers might think of it as lack of maturity or deficiency in academic ability.

girl staring at the window in a classroom

Symptoms for ADHD Diagnose in Girls

Because of the fact that girls are much harder to diagnose as having ADHD, educators need to be aware of the symptoms for girls and the school should be the first place to identify it. Most parents don’t know how to spot these symptoms in their children so it is the teacher’s job to learn to identify these girls and differentiate them from the rest of the class.

How do we spot girls with ADHD? The following are 5 clues that you can check and a few tips on how to prevent or handle them:

Symptom #1: Endless Talking

A research study conducted by Director’s New Innovator Award winner Jukka-Pekka “JP” Onnela revealed that women tend to interact more than men. Onnela and the other researchers organized a collaborative setting of master’s students who were asked to work on a graded assignment to be completed in 12 hours. The activity was repeated using the same scenario and the results showed that women interact more than men especially in long conversations. The study showed a visible difference between the talkativeness of men and women.

Girls are more verbal than boys and this is one reason why it is difficult to spot ADHD in them. However, if the student has already been asked to stop but finds herself talking again unintentionally, then she might have an ADHD problem. A teacher would know if she was being defiant/mischievous or she just ‘accidentally’ talked again.

While an ADHD boy may keep moving and leaving his seat, a girl with ADHD may interrupt the teacher impulsively and exhibit verbal restlessness.

What to do:

ADHD children feel the urge to continue talking or moving and they find it difficult to stop the urge. Try giving them more responsibilities such as assigning them to become the ones to collect the papers to refocus their energy. Teachers can conduct more interactive teaching learning strategies to give them the chance to talk and move. ADHD girls can benefit more in activities that include sharing ideas, comparing notes or other buddy-share techniques. Put her in front of the class so that it’s not easy for her to find someone to distract. When conducting a discussion, talk less and give more time to classroom activities that encourage student participation.

Symptom #2: Socialization Issues

According to Nadeau, girls with ADHD may appear outgoing and talk a lot but actually, they have difficulty making friends because they seem demanding with their endless talks that can be annoying to others.  As a result, they get interrupted always, many don’t like them, and in the end, the child with ADHD feels rejected by her peers.

Female children with ADHD often try to join a group, talk a lot but can hardly understand how her peers feel about what they are doing. They have difficulty connecting socially with others and when frustration gets in, they become impulsive and resort to verbal aggressiveness. While boys resort to physical games, they don’t feel as much rejection as girls do.

ADHD symptoms in young ladies may not be easily detectable but if they don’t get the help they need, this leaves them with a damaged self-esteem that can last for life.

What to do:

Create a classroom culture where everybody is encouraged to care and become more understanding of each other. Make students understand their diversity and teach them to be more tolerant of their classmates’ mistakes. Create activities that teach them the value of patience when dealing with others’ shortcomings and be generous in understanding each other’s differences.  Teach social manners and patiently remind them to not talk too much or interrupt others. Role play on how they can effectively join groups and give the ADHD girls the opportunity to practice what they have learned by guiding them when they tend to ‘forget’. Teach other students to give compliments and allow female children with ADHD to join their group and play with them.


Symptom #3: Inattentiveness Problems

Boys often exhibit difficulty paying attention which makes them easier to diagnose as having ADHD than girls. In fact, girls are diagnosed as having ADHD (at age 12) much later than boys (at age 7). Research shows that 75 percent ADHD female children grow up undiagnosed with the disorder.

How do you know if a girl has ADHD if they don’t exhibit hyperactivity like the boys do? These ladies fiddle with their pencils in the middle of a discussion and suddenly say they don’t understand it all. ADHD female children have trouble focusing and paying attention.

Girls with ADHD may not appear to have issues with attention but they struggle to keep the symptoms to themselves. As these kids grow up suppressing themselves, they often end up with other personality disorders such as depression, abnormal eating habits, or alcohol and other substance abuse.

It is hard for ADHD female children to follow step by step instructions and they couldn’t maintain focus when the teacher talks for a longer than a few minutes at a time.


What to do:

Shorten your lecture period to keep their focus. If you lecture for 20 minutes, try cutting it down to 5 minutes at a time. Give more interactive activities to refocus the energy of the girl with ADHD in your class.

Keep her busy to get her attention and to distract her from playing with her pencils or crayons.

Demonstrate and show how students should pay attention and discuss the importance of giving others the chance to speak. Let them practice until they perfect it. The children with ADHD will always fail in this but make it a part of the procedure of proper classroom behavior. Remind them when they don’t follow and let them do it again until they can master it. Compliment their efforts.

When their mind starts drifting off, find ways to draw them back to the classroom without shaming them. Make it a part of the classroom procedure to give a signal to remind them about it, such as a word they are already familiar with. Children daydream many times especially during lecture activities but it takes a wise teacher to get them back in the classroom without any reproach.

Symptom #4: Extremely Disorganized

Children may need time to learn how to organize their things and it is a common view to see their tables filled with things and their bags with unnecessary papers. While some parents teach their children to clean and arrange their things at a young age, there are some of them who just couldn’t retain the procedure and continue to keep a disorganized area. Some of these children may be exhibiting ADHD symptoms. When they are disorganized with their things and can hardly follow routines on a frequent period of time, most likely, the child has Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder.


What to do:

A teacher can include cleanliness and orderliness as part of her classroom procedures. Dr. Harry K. Wong’s book on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teacher puts emphasis on the importance of insisting these procedures and classroom routine as part of classroom management. He refers to it as “Discipline without stress”. Teachers should spend the first few weeks of the year insisting on the students to follow the procedures because when they have finally learned them, classroom teaching will be faster and easier for the teacher.

The teacher can count up to 3 or teach them that at the count of 1, all the things on their table should be gone and put under it. Those who don’t follow are reminded and made to follow it. A signal or a word may mean, “Clean up your desks in 2 counts!” without even saying all those seven words. When students have mastered this, classroom management is easier.

Another way to prevent more papers on the desk is to provide them with opportunities to be eco-friendly. Let them use multimedia devices for information purposes. They can go research online for their homework or use other materials when creating a project.


Symptom #5: Difficulty Finishing Work

Symptoms of some ADHD girls may be visible but there are those who don’t seem to be exhibiting problems in the classroom because they seem to be “well behaved.” It is harder to detect them and their disorder but another sign is inability to finish work on a consistent basis. These girls may look shy and attentive but they find it difficult to finish their tasks even if they show signs of knowing how to do it.


What to do:

Children with ADHD have a hard time digesting a good amount of information that is given to them at one time. There is a need for teachers to understand that they respond better to step by step directions given one at a time and when tasks are broken down into smaller tasks. Those children have issues processing fast and teachers have to give these tasks according to sequence.

There is also a need to personalize assignments so that those who are slower in pace can catch up with the others. You can reduce the number of questions to answer. It may sound unfair to the others but you as a teacher know the ability of your students and when you make them feel like they can do what others can, they will start building confidence and self-esteem.

Another thing to remember is that ADHD students are not consistent with classroom performance so there is a need to give them retests every now and then.


Symptom #6: Emotionalism/Oversensitivity

Another sign of having Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder is a girl who cries at the slightest reproach. She seems to be oversensitive and aggressive when she rages out when things don’t go as she wants them to be. Emotionalism is one trait of such students. Their impulsiveness contributes to the difficulty to control their emotions.

This may be hard to manage considering that nobody can change situations. It is up to us how to react to them. These girls will easily burst into tears or get mad over situations that don’t seem to be trivial at all.


What to do:

It might help to give her attention and make her feel like she is somebody in the class. Give her responsibilities to go with it so that she is always keeping her busy. Talk to her regularly, advise her on how she can control her crying by letting practice on mind calming techniques such as breathing deeply, inhale, exhale, being grateful, positive thoughts, or doing things that can help divert her attention. Get back to teaching your students to be more respectful of others’ feelings and handle them with care.

After learning about these signs, you probably understand why a few of your girls fidget on their seats, play with their pens and talk endlessly. Helping a girl with ADHD does not happen only in the classroom. When a child shows these signs, it is time to ask the help of the parents and the school psychiatrist to diagnose so that appropriate intervention can be made.