When thinking of ADHD, the general public may imagine a child who is unable to sit still and acts impulsively, blurting out answers in class, or interrupting their parents. But for those with predominantly inattentive ADHD, they may be sitting quietly and following the rules, but seemingly daydreaming from to time, and often struggling to finish a task or organize their lives. These subtler symptoms make the disorder often go unnoticed – most often in females – leaving many undiagnosed until they reach adulthood.

Other common signs of ADHD in females can include:1,2

  • wandering thoughts
  • trouble finishing projects and schoolwork
  • being late often
  • difficulty concentrating
  • a disorganized room or workspace
  • getting upset easily

That’s not to say females with ADHD-Inattentive don’t exhibit symptoms of hyperactivity of impulsivity. Girls with ADHD can be highly physically active, taking risks as they play, or they might be extremely talkative, excitable, and emotional. Forty percent of them, however, will likely outgrow symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity by the time they reach adulthood.3

Risk for Co-occurring Disorders

Many girls with ADHD may feel capable of managing symptoms when they are in elementary school, but the extracurricular, social, and increased academic demands of middle school and high school may cause them to struggle. Girls also may be more likely to blame themselves for their symptoms, labeling themselves as incapable of doing well or being “stupid.” This inward focus puts them at higher risk for major depression, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders than girls who do not have ADHD. One study found that girls with combined-type ADHD are at high risk for suicide and self-harm.4

Women with ADHD

Many women are first diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood, and they may seek treatment because they struggle to manage the demands of work, home, and daily life. They struggle with executive functioning and to complete tasks that require organization, planning, and time management. Unable to keep up, they put themselves at risk for depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, sleep problems, and overeating.5

In addition to medication, females with ADHD can also benefit from therapeutic interventions such as building self-esteem, promoting healthy habits, learning time management, and practicing stress-management techniques. Family therapy can help educate family members about the diagnosis and teach them to problem-solve together and communicate better. Peer support groups can also help women feel less shame about their symptoms and feel empowered to gain control over their daily lives and futures.6

How to Guide Patients & Parents

The following tips may help your patients (and caregivers) as they seek to understand and manage ADHD symptoms.

Understand that ADHD Can be Managed – ADHD is highly treatable in both men and women of all ages, with medication, behavioral therapy, or a combination of the two often combatting symptoms very effectively. Patients should not be discouraged if the first medication or intervention isn’t an exact fit, and they should be encouraged to keep talking to their provider about concerns and successes.

Praise Progress – Patients should also be encouraged to take time to notice progress and improvement in their (or their child’s) daily life, no matter how small. Being able to see setbacks as functions of the condition rather than a personal failing and to take pride in successes can lower the risk of depression and help your child gain a stronger sense of control over their health and their future. Remind them that starting treatment in childhood can have a huge impact on future outcomes and functioning; practicing optimism about the condition is powerful.

Know the Applicable Rights – If a school-age child is severely impacted by her ADHD, they may qualify for an Individualized Education Program (IEP), or a 504 Plan, and educational accommodations. Even if a child does not qualify, parents and guardians can talk to school staff about making teachers, school counselors, and other staff available to support their child as they prepare to thrive in an academic environment. School personnel may also subscribe to stereotypes about ADHD and need education about what symptoms to monitor in the student’s daily performance.

More on how cultural influences can impact an ADHD diagnosis.

Utilize Mentors – All of us, and especially children, can benefit from examples of people who have overcome challenges or adversity. If you know a woman or teenager who has successfully managed the symptoms of her ADHD, considering asking them to connect with your client. Being able to visualize success can encourage progress and decrease the risk of low self-esteem or negative labeling.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Psycom.net


Last Updated: Jun 15, 2021