“ADHD is just about being hyper.” “It’s something only boys have.”
These are just two of the many myths about ADHD. There’s some kernel of truth behind them, though. Girls and boys have ADHD just as often. But boys are more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD. That’s because they’re more likely to have hyperactivity as a symptom.
Every child with ADHD is unique. But in many cases, the experience of ADHD for boys can be very different from the experience for girls. Learn more about ADHD in boys.
Symptoms and diagnosis of ADHD in boys
Boys are more likely than girls to have hyperactivity as a symptom. That might look like:
Running and shouting when playing, even indoors
Playing too roughly
Bumping into people and things
Constantly moving even when seated
Symptoms like these are why boys with ADHD often fit the ADHD stereotype: a child who’s in constant motion and who acts impulsively.
This type of behavior is more likely to raise flags at home and in the classroom than other ADHD symptoms, like trouble with focus. So boys are more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD in childhood.
See a mom vlogger talk about noticing signs her son had ADHD in preschool.
Hyperactivity, impulsivity, and “being bad”
Boys (and girls) who are hyperactive and impulsive usually get noticed, which can be good and bad. Good because their ADHD is more likely to be identified and treated early on. Bad because their behavior often gets them in trouble.
They might get a lot of negative feedback from teachers, siblings, coaches, and other families. That can be really stressful. It can take a toll on their self-esteem and make them act out more, which can lead to disciplinary problems.
Imagine this scenario. A grade-schooler with ADHD grabs another kid’s pencil and starts playing with it. His classmate tells the teacher, and the teacher scolds him in front of the class. Already feeling like a “bad” kid, he comes home angry and picks a fight with his sister. Now he’s getting into trouble at home, too.
Hyperactivity can be a huge challenge for boys. But keep in mind that some boys with ADHD aren’t hyperactive. There can be a consequence to that, too.
Because they don’t fit the stereotype, boys who aren’t hyperactive are more likely to get overlooked (much like girls are). They may not get the negative attention, but they also don’t get the support they need.
See a TED Talk by a brain researcher on his experiences growing up with attention-deficit disorder.
The belief that “boys will be boys”
Especially for young boys, hyperactivity might be dismissed as simply “boy behavior.” People may think that being very active, even to the point of bothering others, is normal, and that boys will grow out of it.
That belief is wrong, and it can also lead to two unwanted consequences. The first is that a child with ADHD won’t be diagnosed, treated, or supported at school until much later. The second is that it sends a message that his behavior is OK, even if he feels out of control or different from other boys. Nobody is recognizing that he’s struggling.
Many kids with ADHD have trouble making friends and fitting in. Boys face a unique set of social challenges, however. They’re often expected to be tough and roll with the punches. But many kids with ADHD have trouble managing their emotions. And they don’t always interpret a social situation the right way.
Imagine that a middle-schooler with ADHD is hanging out with classmates at recess. One of the other boys teases him in fun about something small. Instead of shrugging it off or coming back with a funny response, the boy gets mad and storms off, leaving the other boys bewildered. The next day, they ignore him.
Sometimes, boys with ADHD behave like the class clown to mask their challenges and be popular with other kids. That behavior can backfire, however. Their antics can be funny, but kids might also find them annoying.
For more information, watch as an Understood expert talks about ADHD in boys vs. girls.