Attention & ADHD
The Hidden Struggle: Why ADHD in Teen Girls Goes Undiagnosed and Untreated
The Hidden Struggle: Why ADHD in Teen Girls Goes Undiagnosed and Untreated
5 min read
By Kathryn Rawson
The Hidden Struggle: Why ADHD in Teen Girls Goes Undiagnosed and Untreated

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, boys are three times more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than girls. Why? For many years, ADHD has been perceived as a 'boys' disorder.'

The stereotype is still common - hyperactive and disruptive boys causing chaos in the classroom. 

The latest research has started to call this narrative into question. Girls have ADHD - their symptoms just look different from those of boys. Because of this, girls aren't being diagnosed and aren't receiving proper treatment. As a result, many girls are struggling silently.

 So how can you tell if your teen girl has ADHD, and how can you help her?

The Traits of ADHD in Teen Girls

Girls are less likely to display the symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity commonly associated with ADHD. Instead, they are most likely to exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Struggling to stay focused 
  • Appearing to zone out, or daydream 
  • Having difficulty organizing tasks 
  • Difficulty with time management 
  • Restlessness
  • Fidgeting
  • Talkative
  • Low self-esteem, shyness
  • Anxiety
  • Perfectionism
  • Trouble maintaining friendships

Teachers, who are usually the first to flag kids for ADHD evaluations, often misunderstand these signs in girls. A girl who is very talkative during class is believed to be 'chatty,' and a girl who daydreams or zones out may appear 'ditzy' - unfortunate but common stereotypes of teen girls.

Masking Behaviors and Mental Health

It is common for girls with ADHD to learn to develop coping strategies to conform to social norms and hide their struggles. They may work harder to blend in and avoid drawing attention to their difficulties, making it challenging for parents, educators, and healthcare professionals to recognize the underlying ADHD.

These masking behaviors hinder early intervention and appropriate support. Examples include:

  • Purposely staying quiet and being careful about what they say
  • Suppressing fidgeting behaviors
  • Copying other people in social situations
  • Developing perfectionist tendencies to cope 
  • Obsessive organization, list-making, and planning

Suppressing their ADHD symptoms and lack of treatment can cause girls with ADHD to internalize their struggles. As a result, girls are more likely to experience other conditions like anxiety and depression.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that adolescent girls with ADHD had higher rates of depressive symptoms compared to boys with ADHD. Another study found that girls with ADHD were more likely to experience depression and anxiety disorders into adulthood.

How Can I Help My Teenager with ADHD?

Recognizing and addressing ADHD is vital for your daughter's academic, social, and emotional well-being. To help, we've compiled five essential strategies to support your teen with ADHD:

#1 Seek Professional Evaluation: If you suspect your teenager may have ADHD, consult a healthcare professional specializing in ADHD diagnosis and treatment - a pediatrician, psychiatrist, General Practioner, or School Psychologist. They will conduct a comprehensive evaluation and provide guidance based on your teenager's individual needs.

#2 Educate Yourself: Learn about ADHD in girls, its symptoms, and the challenges they may face. Understanding the unique traits and experiences can help you advocate for your teenager and provide appropriate support.

#3 Communicate Openly: Maintain open and honest communication with your teenager. Encourage them to share their struggles, frustrations, and concerns. Actively listen and validate their experiences, promoting a safe and supportive environment.

#4 Collaborate with Teachers: It is essential to open communication lines with teachers and school staff. At teacher meetings, be sure to ask the right questions about your teens' behavior in class. From there, if necessary, you can work with the school to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 Plan to address academic accommodations and support.

Encourage your teen's teachers to provide you with any feedback. After all, they spend many hours with your teen each day and are a valuable source of information regarding their behavior.

Teachers often have a lot on their plate and many students to focus on. An email is a useful means of communicating with teachers without imposing.

#5 Work with an ADHD Coach: An ADHD Coach will help your teenager develop strategies to manage their ADHD symptoms. A qualified coach will understand the symptoms and experiences of ADHD specific to girls and will be able to offer personalized support. Should your daughter feel more comfortable with a female coach, many ADHD coaching companies can provide just that.

The practical tools provided by an ADHD coach may include organizational tools, creating visual schedules, breaking tasks into smaller steps, and promoting self-regulation techniques. They will also help your teen establish healthy routines and keep them accountable.

Final Thoughts

Recognizing the hidden struggles of teenage girls with ADHD is essential for their well-being and academic success. By understanding their unique traits and challenges, parents can be crucial in providing support and seeking appropriate interventions.

Remember to stay informed, consult professionals, and foster open communication with your teenager. Together, we can create an environment where ADHD teen girls receive the necessary support and thrive in their personal and academic lives.

Sources:

Skogli EW, Teicher MH, Andersen PN, Hovik KT, Øie M. ADHD in girls and boys--gender differences in co-existing symptoms and executive function measures. BMC Psychiatry. 2013 Nov 9;13:298. .

Meinzer MC, Pettit JW, Waxmonsky JG, Gnagy E, Molina BS, Pelham WE. Does Childhood Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Predict Levels of Depressive Symptoms during Emerging Adulthood? J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2016 May;44(4):787-97.

Elkins IJ, Malone S, Keyes M, Iacono WG, McGue M. The impact of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder on preadolescent adjustment may be greater for girls than for boys. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2011;40(4):532-45.

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