Understanding the Signs of ADHD in Girls

Increasing Awareness of Symptoms of ADHD for Girls

Chinese girl jumping on bed
Klaus Tiedge / Getty Images

ADHD has long been thought of as a condition affecting males—think an energetic fourth-grade boy who has trouble sitting still during class.

However, as more research is carried out, our understanding of the condition deepens, and more girls are diagnosed with ADHD. This is good news since living with undiagnosed ADHD can result in many disadvantages, such as a lack of accommodations in the classroom, low self-esteem, and self-blame. 

Girls are more likely to have inattentive ADHD, whereas it is more typical for boys to have hyperactive-impulsive ADHD or combined presentation. It is much easier to identify a child who is physically active and possibly defiant as someone that would benefit from an ADHD evaluation than someone who seems daydreamy and shy. 

What Does ADHD Look Like in Girls?

Inattention: For many girls, attention is their biggest challenge. They can get distracted by external events. For example, a bird outside the window, which means they aren’t paying attention to something else in their environment that could carry more importance, such as the date of an upcoming exam.

A girl with ADHD can also get internally distracted and drift off into her own world. Sometimes this is a coping strategy to keep herself entertained when something is boring. Other times she doesn’t feel she has any control over it. Hyperfocus can hide the possibility of ADHD from parents or teachers, as they might notice a girl focusing on something she is interested in for hours.

Hyperactivity: If a girl has hyperactivity she might be described as a "tomboy" because she likes physical activity and doesn’t seem to enjoy the typical things a girl her age does. She might also be in motion in less obvious ways, perhaps doodling constantly or moving around in her chair.

Impulsivity:  A girl with impulsivity can be hyper-talkative and verbally impulsive, interrupting others, talking excessively, or changing topics again and again during conversations. She might blurt out words without thinking about their impact on others. Some girls are described as overemotional, a “drama queen,” and easily excitable.

ADHD symptoms can manifest very differently in each child. You may have a boy who has been diagnosed with ADHD and a daughter who is having trouble in school, but you never considered that your daughter might also have ADHD because her issues are so different. ADHD symptoms in girls are often thought of as characters of a girl’s personality rather than ADHD.

20 Possible Signs of ADHD in Girls

  1. Difficulty maintaining focus, easily distracted 
  2. Shifting focus from one activity to another difficult one
  3. Disorganized and messy (in her appearance and physical space)
  4. Forgetful 
  5. Problems completing tasks 
  6. Daydreaming and in a world of her own 
  7. Takes time to process information and directions (It may even appear that she doesn't hear you) 
  8. Looks to be making "careless" mistakes
  9. Often late (poor time management) 
  10. Hyper-talkative (Always has lots to say but is not good at listening)
  11. Hyperreactivity
  12. Verbally impulsive; blurts out and interrupts others
  13. Seems to get easily upset 
  14. Highly  sensitive to noise, fabrics, and emotions
  15. Doesn’t seem motivated
  16. Doesn’t appear to be trying 
  17. Seems shy
  18. Appears withdrawn
  19. Cries easily 
  20. Might often slam her doors shut 

Although these signs can reflect a variety of conditions, girls who are persistently having difficulties in these areas should be referred for an ADHD evaluation. 

If ADHD is diagnosed, it can be treated and managed. Interventions can be put in place, including behavior management techniques, organizational strategies, medication, counseling, and support.

Simply knowing she has ADHD relieves a girl of a huge burden of guilt and shame. It also frees her from the damaging labels of being “spacey,” “unmotivated,” “stupid,” or “lazy.” She is none of those things; she simply has ADHD. Strategies can be put in place to make life a little easier and her future much brighter.

    View Article Sources
    • Gurian A. Girls with ADHD: Overlooked, Underdiagnosed, and Underserved. 2014. NYU Child Study Center. New York.
    • Selinus ENCA, Molero Y, Lichtenstein P, et al. Subthreshold and Threshold Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Symptoms in Childhood: Psychosocial Outcomes in Adolescence in Boys and Girls. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. 2016;134(6):533-545. doi:10.1111/acps.12655.