20 Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Girls

How the condition tends to present in females may surprise you

Chinese girl jumping on bed
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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has long been thought of as a condition affecting males (think an energetic boy who has trouble sitting still during class). However, more girls are being diagnosed as the understanding of how the condition can present differently depending on sex deepens. Girls are more likely to have inattentive ADHD, in which daydreaming and shyness are common, whereas it is more typical for boys to have hyperactive-impulsive ADHD or combined presentation.

Living with undiagnosed ADHD can result in many disadvantages, such as a lack of accommodations in the classroom, low self-esteem, and self-blame. Gone undiagnosed, ADHD can even affect mental health well into adolescence and adulthood. Being aware of the different ways ADHD can present in your daughter can help you know when it might be time to see a doctor for an evaluation.

Common Characteristics

It is much easier to identify a child who is physically active and defiant as someone that would benefit from an ADHD evaluation than someone who seems distant or distracted. In girls, ADHD signs and symptoms tend to have these underlying commonalities:

Compensates for Inattention

For many girls with ADHD, paying attention to the task at hand is their biggest challenge. They can get distracted by external events or drift off into a world of their own. For example, a bird outside a classroom window may take attention away from something more important in their environment, like a teacher announcing the date of an upcoming exam.

To compensate, a girl with ADHD may hyperfocus on something she likes or is good at. She will put forth so much effort and concentration that parents or teachers may dismiss the possibility of ADHD. Sometimes this hyperfocus is a coping strategy to keep herself entertained when something is boring. Other times, she may not feel she has any control over it.

Always in Motion

If a girl is hyperactive, 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.

Overly Sensitive and Has Problems With Impulse Control

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, “drama queens,” and easily excitable.

ADHD symptoms can manifest very differently in each child. You may have a boy who has been diagnosed with ADHD, but never considered that your daughter who is having trouble in school might also have it too because her issues seem so different from his. ADHD symptoms in girls are often thought of as characters of a girl’s personality rather than ADHD, which is why they are often overlooked or explained away.

Signs to Look Out For

Not all girls with ADHD will exhibit all of the following signs and symptoms. Conversely, having one or two of these does not equal an ADHD diagnosis in and of itself. However, if your daughter seems to exhibit a few of these symptoms on a continual basis, a discussion with an experienced professional may be beneficial.

  • Difficulty maintaining focus; easily distracted 
  • Shifting focus from one activity to another
  • Disorganized and messy (in her appearance and physical space)
  • Forgetful 
  • Problems completing tasks 
  • Daydreaming and in a world of her own 
  • Takes time to process information and directions; seems like she doesn't hear you
  • Looks to be making "careless" mistakes
  • Often late (poor time management) 
  • Hyper-talkative (always has lots to say, but is not good at listening)
  • Hyperreactivity (exaggerated emotional responses)
  • Verbally impulsive; blurts out and interrupts others
  • Seems to get easily upset 
  • Highly sensitive to noise, fabrics, and emotions
  • Doesn’t seem motivated
  • Doesn’t appear to be trying 
  • Seems shy
  • Appears withdrawn
  • Cries easily 
  • Might often slam her doors shut 

Seeking Help

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 can relieve a girl of a huge burden of guilt and shame. It can also free 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.

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