Two parents are waiting to pick up their kids from school. Eliot’s mom is a bit keyed up as she’s just come from a series of meetings with a therapist, a psychiatrist, and a school intervention specialist, who all are working together to deal with her son’s recent ADHD diagnosis.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” she says to Mariah’s mom at the door of the school. “But everything is getting so much better. He used to get sent to the Principal once a week. He’d get red exes all over his homework. None of his friends wanted to play with him anymore. Now that we know it’s ADHD, he’s sleeping better, doing better classwork and back to his old self on the playground. It’s been hard but worth it.”

Mariah’s mom smiles weakly, but it’s hard for her to hide her frustration. “I think something’s off with Mariah, too. The teachers keep scolding her for staring off into space during some classes, but in other classes, she gets so interested in her work that they can’t get her to stop and transition to the next activity. She keeps getting weak marks on her report card because she seems to always forget her homework – and if she loses another retainer, I don’t know how I’m going to afford all the orthodontist bills. No one seems to have an idea for how to help us.”

If Mariah’s mom had gone to a mental health professional, she would have heard similar news as Eliot’s mom. But unfortunately, boys are much more likely to get an ADHD diagnosis than girls. Why is it that girls with ADHD are frequently overlooked?

With global stressors at all time highs, psychologists report increasing numbers of new patients with a range of mental health conditions.
A mental health condition thought to impact around 3 percent of adults world-wide, ADHD can be characterized by three main features

ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – is so much more commonly associated with boys because the most disruptive part, the hyperactivity, is a stereotypically male trait. Boys, in fact, get diagnosed with ADHD at more than twice the rate of girls. But that’s not an accurate representation of how the condition impacts each gender. Clinicians often ignore ADHD in girls because:

  • They may be better at masking their symptoms through coping strategies
  • Their symptoms are more internal and less disruptive
  • Parents and teachers are primed to be on the lookout for ADHD in boys, which results in more frequent referrals for evaluation.

There’s a real cost to this reality. When children with undiagnosed ADHD don’t get the right kind of support, they face greater challenges at home and at school. Down the road, you might find a teen with iffy self-esteem who is shy about accessing the opportunities their peers might rush to grab. These negative impacts can filter into their adult years, hurting their ability to experience life as fully as they want. 

What parents should know about ADHD in Girls

It’s a lot of work to help kids with ADHD flourish. Parents have a lot on their plate, between finding the right medication, helping out with troubleshooting organisational challenges, and getting teachers and administrators to agree to academic accommodations. Here’s how parents of girls with ADHD can help their daughters thrive.

Since these behaviours can be caused by other issues, their presence is not a guarantee of an ADHD diagnosis.

Acknowledge her ‘hidden disorder’

Since most girls with ADHD have the inattentive type, they tend to be the daydreaming kind, rather than the class clowns who have hyperactive and impulsive ADHD. Even hyperactive/impulsive ADHD in girl toddlers tends to present with less pronounced symptoms than their boy counterparts. That’s a good news bad news scenario: when kids act out, they get referrals for ADHD testing; when they simply seem lost in thought, they get labelled “spacey” or “dense.”

Instead of levelling criticism at your daughter, learn about ADHD and become her advocate. She’s not forgetting her lunch box on purpose; she might need several reminders and a well created routine in order to make it a habit.

Find a support network

You’re not the first parent to face ADHD – no matter how your daughter presents with ADHD, other parents have tackled so many of your frustrations before. They’ll give you space to vent and have tons of practical tips to get your daughter out of the door in the morning, engaged in after school activities and in the habit of incorporating self-care into her day.

Another bonus of connecting with parents of girls with ADHD: you might find potential playmates for your daughter. Even if they aren’t her soulmates, she’ll benefit from spending time with other girls her age with ADHD who will help her normalize her experience.

Help her find a support network

Girl life can be complicated. Everyone struggles with feeling different for some reason or another, but these challenges are intensified for non-neurotypical kids. Take extra time to find nurturing environments where kids of all kinds are actively accepted. If you’re considering enrolling her in a camp or after school class, look for smaller settings. And make sure she has plenty of one-on-one playdate opportunities. In the case of girls with impulsive or hyperactive ADHD, you’ll want to look for outlets for her boundless energy every single day, whether it’s a drama camp or regular sports activity. And, of course, avoid the temptation to pack her schedule like she’s a high-powered CEO. Give her plenty of down time and avoid back-to-back playdates when possible.

Side Effects
When getting started with a new therapist, ask them:

Set her up for success

Once you know more about your daughter’s ADHD, you can work with her – and potentially with a therapist and/or educational consultant – to set up an environment in which she will thrive. For example, some people with ADHD thrive in a totally minimalist environment, free from clutter – so you may want to look into a major clean-out, along with some reorganization to keep her spaces distraction-free.

You’ll also want to figure out how to support her study habits by figuring out what helps her do her best work. Does she respond well to positive peer pressure? If so, a study group might be the secret sauce. Does she need white walls, white noise and an empty desk to get anything done? Try it out and see what happens.

Is your daughter forgetful? Create designated areas for her to put her things, and establish a ritual of chores when she comes into the house: first she empties and puts away her backpack, her shoes and coat go in the closet, and her house key goes on a hook. Build these rituals slowly, one at a time, adding onto them as she masters the previous one. The more tasks she can automate, the less she’ll have to tap into her bandwidth to get things done.

Encourage her superpowers

A common misconception around ADHD is that it’s a learning disability. Not only is it not a disability, it’s often a superpower. People with ADHD are great big-picture thinkers and often extremely detail-oriented – when they are truly passionate about what they are doing. That means your daughter has the potential to find a career that lights her up, if she’s allowed to pursue her passion. Of course, we all want our kiddos to be well-rounded, but if your daughter can’t stop playing LEGOS all day every day, understand that she’s exploring and developing her best self. Even though you’ll have to nudge her to eat and do other things she doesn’t love quite so much, support her in her passions and let her know she’s got lots to offer the world.

The most common type of ADHD medication is known as a stimulant.