Do Boys and Girls Show the Same ADHD Symptoms?

By Mark Griffin

Do boys and girls show the same ADHD symptoms?

Mark Griffin

Founding Headmaster, Eagle Hill School

Girls and boys tend to display different ADHD symptoms. You could say that boys with ADHD frequently stand out more in the crowd than their female peers. In addition to having trouble paying attention and being easily distracted, boys with attention issues are often more likely to act out in school.

Girls, regardless of which kind of ADHD they have—the hyperactive-impulsive kind or the inattentive, daydreamy kind (also known as ADD), seem to compensate better in school. Teachers might notice them being a little itchy or overly chatty, but girls are less likely than boys to be blurting things out in class or pushing or shoving the kid next to them.

Teachers tend to have a different tolerance level for the behavior girls with ADHD exhibit than they do for the behavior of boys with ADHD. Signs to look for in girls include:

In the book Understanding Girls With AD/HD, Dr. Kathleen Nadeau says, “Girls are less rebellious, less defiant, generally less ‘difficult’ than boys.” Because they’re socialized to please teachers and parents, girls try hard to compensate for the disorder—making it much harder to spot. When teachers or parents do take note of girls’ behavior, explains Nadeau, they might chalk it up to immaturity or lack of academic ability, rather than ADHD.

Boys with ADHD often behave in ways that are tough for teachers to ignore. This helps explain why boys are three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than their female peers and also why boys tend to get diagnosed at younger ages than girls. Girls are diagnosed with ADHD on average five years later than boys—boys at age 7 and girls at age 12. There are also many girls who never get diagnosed. Research indicates as many as 75 percent of girls with attention issues are undiagnosed.

Research indicates that girls with ADHD often struggle more than boys to pay attention. As they get older, they’re more likely than girls who don’t have ADHD to have problems with depression, substance abuse and eating disorders.

Since girls often present different ADHD symptoms than boys, it’s important to be familiar with the more subtle ways in which girls act out. That awareness will help girls who do have ADHD get the help they need sooner.

Find out what to do if you’re concerned your child might have ADHD. See a detailed list of ADHD symptoms. And read a personal story from a young woman with ADHD who describes herself as a “daydreamer.”

About the Author

Portrait of Mark Griffin

Mark Griffin was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.

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