ADHD and GIRLS: What Parents Need to Know

By Staff Writer

As the parent of an adolescent or pre-teen girl struggling socially or in school, chances are you've already heard about ADHD, or Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder. What you may not know, though, is that ADHD doesn't necessarily affect girls in the same way it affects boys - but understanding those differences may help you get your daughter the support and treatment she needs.

When you think of ADHD, you probably think of common symptoms such as hyperactive, disruptive or impulsive behavior, mild aggression or trouble concentrating. However, many of the typical signs of ADHD actually tend to be more common in boys - one reason it's sometimes harder to diagnose ADHD in girls.

Is Your Daughter Struggling with ADHD?
Unlike boys, girls with ADHD don't always display the hyperactive or disruptive behavior often associated with the disorder. What's more, because pre-teen and teenage girls are often more motivated to please their parents and teachers with good grades, they may also work harder in school - making their symptoms harder to spot.

But if your daughter seems to be under-performing at school and appears to have trouble paying attention, she may be struggling with ADHD even if she doesn't exhibit the impulsive, hyperactive or disruptive behavior commonly associated with it. Here's what to look for:

  • Lack of focus/trouble concentrating. Your daughter may daydream a lot or appear to be "spaced out." She has trouble focusing on more than one task at once, and may become overwhelmed by distractions, loud noises or too many instructions. As a result, she may withdraw or retreat from participating in group or social activities.
  • Hypersocial behavior/talking too much. Some girls with ADHD tend to talk too much, too fast and without attention to normal conversation etiquette. She may frequently interrupt conversations or overwhelm you, her friends or her teachers with non-stop chatter. She may frequently be reprimanded at school for distracting classmates or talking in class, and may have trouble making friendships or maintaining them.
  • Risk-taking and impulsive behavior. Some girls with ADHD do experience many similar symptoms to boys, including hyperactivity and impulsive, risk-taking behavior. Girls who show these kinds of ADHD symptoms may be physically aggressive at times, and may take part in potentially dangerous behaviors - characteristics that, if left untreated, could lead to more serious behaviors later on, including alcohol and substance abuse.
  • Moodiness. Girls with ADHD may also exhibit mood swings and some signs of mild depression. She may frequently seem irritable or agitated, and can become easily upset or unnecessarily frustrated over things that others may consider small or trivial.
  • Messiness/Disorganization. Difficulty staying organized, keeping track of assignments or deadlines is another symptom of ADHD. Girls with ADHD may have trouble keeping school work, papers, books or personal belongings in order, or they may seem to be chronically messy.

What to Do if Your Daughter Has ADHD
If you think your adolescent or pre-teen daughter is struggling with ADHD, it's important to get her the support and treatment she needs. Left untreated, ADHD can lead to other, riskier behaviors as your daughter moves further into her adolescence.

Because your daughter may not always exhibit clear symptoms of ADHD at school, as her parent, you are best equipped to recognize signs of the disorder. If your daughter exhibits at least two or three symptoms of ADHD and you have worked with a therapist to rule out potential learning disabilities, it's time to make sure she has the emotional, social and educational support she needs to enjoy a healthy, successful adolescence.

Working with your daughter's teachers, advisors and school counselors, and finding a certified therapist experienced at counseling girls with ADHD are essential first steps for you and your daughter. But if your daughter continues to have trouble academically and/or socially even with professional support, you may want to consider a specialized boarding school for girls.

Therapeutic boarding schools that offer specialized treatment for girls with ADHD can give your daughter the kind of comprehensive support she may need to become successful. In addition to licensed learning specialists and certified adolescent and family therapists, an all-girls boarding school also provides the comfort of a constant, around-the-clock structure and family-like environment. As a result, the boarding programs for ADHD can also help pre-teen and teenage girls develop the valuable skills they need for long-lasting, healthy relationships, emotional stability and academic success.