ADHD in Boys: Differences, Diagnosis, and Treatment

young boy in school classroom

Nitat Termmee / Getty Images

ADHD affects millions of children around the world. In America, a 2016 parent survey placed the number of children diagnosed with ADHD at 6.1 million. However, this disorder is widely accepted to affect more boys than girls. Around 12.9% of boys will get an ADHD diagnosis. In comparison, only 5.6% of girls will receive an ADHD diagnosis.

When observing symptoms of this condition, there can be noticeable differences in how each gender might present ADHD.

This article discusses how boys display signs of the disorder. Read on to learn about the ADHD diagnosis procedures, plus possible treatment methods.

What Is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder. A person with this condition may show repeated patterns marked by problems with focus or concentration. Other times, someone with ADHD can appear hyperactive (e.g., fidgeting, talking non-stop, tapping, etc.).

In addition to attention challenges and hyperactivity, ADHD may also manifest as a lack of self-control. This condition is recognized in people that appear impulsive. Impulsive children can appear rash, inconsiderate, or careless for their age. 

ADHD may appear as a combined presentation. It can also take the form of predominantly inattentive or predominantly hyperactive-impulsive behaviors.

This disorder can cause challenges in everyday life. Due to difficulties with focus, a child with ADHD may be more accident-prone. This child is also likely to have more problems at school, and may even struggle with emotional problems.  

Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Boys

ADHD is commonly perceived as a condition that affects boys. In reality, there’s a chance each sex is equally affected by the condition. However, because of the behavioral symptoms that may be more prominent in boys, it is often considered a male-dominated disorder.

Some research has found a small difference between adolescent boys and girls in how they manage their ADHD, with girls having lower self-efficacy and poorer coping strategies than boys. However, by adulthood, these differences appear to even out.

While girls with this disorder may struggle with self-esteem, this behavior is less common in boys. Likewise, girls may find that they are strongly affected by different harmful life events, whereas boys may feel less strongly about similar incidents. 

Some studies show that boys tend to show more externalizing symptoms such as aggression, whereas girls may manifest higher rates of depression and anxiety. Such boys with ADHD are more likely to be tagged as rule-breakers at school, home, or other social environments.

There is some association between ADHD and higher rates of suicidal behavior. 

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

How Is ADHD Diagnosed in Boys?

While boys tend to have more disruptive symptoms of ADHD, not every male child will present this way. Where a young person is suspected of living with ADHD, healthcare providers may use guidelines provided by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5).

To be diagnosed with this disorder, you will notice a constant pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsiveness.

Inattention

Inattentive symptoms may include:

  • Poor attention to detail or making easily avoidable mistakes during activities
  • Difficulty with extended periods of concentration
  • Difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  • Disliking activities that require mental strain such as school assignments
  • Getting distracted easily
  • Forgetfulness

Hyperactivity and Impulsivity

Hyperactive and impulsive symptoms may include:

  • Excessive fidgeting
  • Difficulty remaining seated
  • Excessive talking
  • Interrupting others when speaking
  • Running around in unsuitable settings
  • Highly energetic
  • Blurting out the answer to an unfinished question

Six or more symptoms need to be present in children 16 and under, and five or more for those seventeen and older. The symptoms need to be present for six months, cause interference in functioning in two or more settings such as home, school, or work, and have been present before the age of 12. 

Clinicians will often use psychological tests and questionnaires in addition to the history and examination to make an accurate ADHD diagnosis.

How Does ADHD Affect Boys?

ADHD tends to present with a more aggressive, energized side in boys. They may struggle with their peers at school and can display defiant or rule-breaking behavior.

ADHD can lead to a more injury-prone life in boys. Teenagers with this disorder are more likely to smoke, drink, or dabble in drugs. It isn’t uncommon for them to run into some issues with the law.

Children with ADHD can also develop other psychiatric conditions such as depressive and anxiety disorders. 

ADHD Treatment

There are different options available to manage ADHD. However, treatment methods can depend on the child and family.

For children younger than six, it is recommended that parents or caregivers attempt training in behavior management before trying medications. For children above this age, medication and behavior management are recommended together.

Medication

Drugs are an established and effective method to manage ADHD symptoms. Medication for this disorder can improve attention, challenging behaviors, and may be helpful for improving daily life.

  • Stimulants: These medications increase the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in certain parts of the brain involve in attention and behavior. Stimulants are the most commonly used ADHD medication. 
  • Non-stimulants: This treatment is not as effective as stimulants for managing ADHD, but may be used in those who can't tolerate or don't achieve an adequate response to stimulants.

Healthcare providers may try out different medications and doses to determine the right fit for a child’s needs when managing ADHD. 

Behavior Therapy

ADHD can lead to very disruptive behaviors in children. This can affect interactions with loved ones, teachers, and peers.

Through behavior therapy, a child can learn, or improve behaviors that can be challenging to deal with.

Behavioral therapy can extend to family members. This treatment can teach children appropriate ways to behave in the classroom and other social settings.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Where a child displays a persistent pattern of behavior that suggests ADHD, it’s important to visit a health care professional to begin an assessment. 

A Word From Verywell

ADHD can cause challenging symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsiveness. Boys with this disorder may appear to be more disruptive than their peers. When behaviors suggesting ADHD persist over a period of time, it’s important to see a healthcare provider to diagnose and treat the condition.

Was this page helpful?
4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

  2. InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Overview. 2015 Sep 9 [Updated 2018 Sep 20].

  3. Rucklidge JJ. Gender differences in ADHD: implications for psychosocial treatments. Expert Rev Neurother. 2008;8(4):643-655. doi:10.1586/14737175.8.4.643

  4.  Centers for Disease Control. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.