Understanding ADHD in Girls and Women: Unravelling the Hidden Struggles

Explore how ADHD manifests in females and the unique challenges they encounter, shedding light on symptom recognition and tailored management strategies.

Written by

Jacqui Walker

Published On:

Oct 25, 2023

Women with ADHD celebrating a birthday
Women with ADHD celebrating a birthday
Women with ADHD celebrating a birthday

Navigating the world of ADHD can be a complex journey, especially when it comes to understanding ADHD in girls and women. It's often harder to spot and frequently misdiagnosed, leading many women to struggle in silence. But let's start breaking down that barrier today.

You might be surprised to learn that ADHD isn't just about being hyperactive or impulsive. For many women and girls, it can take on a more subtle form, which includes difficulty focusing, disorganisation, forgetfulness, and emotional sensitivity.

In this article, we'll dive into these complexities to give you a deeper grasp of what ADHD looks like in females, from recognising the signs in young girls to understanding how symptoms may change over time for adult women. 

Defining ADHD in Girls and Women

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, more commonly known as ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental condition. It's usually identified during childhood and often lasts into adulthood. 

People with this disorder may exhibit persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that are more frequent and severe than typical.

ADHD in girls and women can manifest differently than it does in boys and men. That's because symptoms in females are often less obvious and thus harder to identify. For instance, while a boy with ADHD might be "hyperactive", a girl might be quietly daydreaming.

Understanding female ADHD requires recognising these differences. Girls with the condition might appear dreamy or lost in their thoughts instead of displaying overtly disruptive behaviour. 

They could struggle to focus or follow instructions but avoid punishment because they're not creating obvious problems.

Let's dive into some statistics:

Defining ADHD in Girls and Women

These figures show us that, while fewer girls are diagnosed compared to boys, there's still a significant number affected by ADHD.

In women, symptoms can look like chronic forgetfulness or disorganisation - traits often attributed to being busy or stressed rather than signs of an underlying issue like ADHD.

It's important to remember that everyone’s experience with this disorder is unique; no two people will have the exact same symptoms or experiences. 

Yet understanding how ADHD manifests, particularly in girls and women, can help ensure those affected get the support they need.

ADHD Symptoms Unique to Girls and Women


A girl with ADHD might appear dreamy or lost in her own world. Instead of causing disruption in class like her male counterparts might do, she's more likely to daydream or seem distracted. 

It's not uncommon for girls with ADHD to be labelled as 'spacey' or 'ditsy' when they're actually struggling with their focus due to this condition.

Struggling with Self-organisation

Similarly, females dealing with ADHD often struggle with self-organisation and planning skills. They may forget appointments or lose track of time easily. This isn't just typical forgetfulness; it's part of how ADHD affects them uniquely.

Anxiety or Depression

Women diagnosed later in life face their own set of challenges. For many years, they might've chalked up their struggles to personal shortcomings rather than understanding they were dealing with a neurological disorder. 

This could lead them to develop secondary issues such as anxiety or depression, which further complicates matters.

Recognising these unique manifestations is key to understanding female ADHD better. Once you're aware of these symptoms specific to women and girls coping with ADHD, it becomes easier to identify and address this disorder effectively.

Diagnosis of ADHD in Females: The Challenges

Peeling back the layers of understanding female ADHD, you'll quickly come to realise that diagnosing this condition in girls and women is no easy task. 

A significant issue lies in the fact that traditional diagnostic criteria were primarily developed based on studies conducted on males. This male-centric model has led to a skewed perception of what ADHD looks like, often overlooking the unique ways it manifests itself in females.

This misinterpretation can lead to years, even decades, of struggle without proper support or understanding.

Identifying ADHD in girls proves equally challenging due to societal expectations and stereotypes. Girls are frequently expected to be quiet and compliant – characteristics not usually associated with ADHD. 

Consequently, when they display symptoms such as hyperactivity or impulsivity, these are often misrepresented as defiance or a lack of discipline.

To compound this problem further are the 'masking' behaviours often employed by females with undiagnosed ADHD. Desperate to fit into societal norms they may overcompensate for their perceived shortcomings, leading them down a road filled with anxiety and depression.

Appreciating these challenges is crucial for steps towards a more inclusive approach where all individuals suffering from ADHD can receive accurate diagnosis and effective treatment regardless of gender.

Impact of ADHD on School Performance in Girls

Impact of ADHD on School Performance in Girls

Understanding female ADHD and its effects on schooling can be a challenging task. You see, girls with ADHD often struggle academically due to their inability to concentrate or remain organised. 

Their restless minds may wander during lectures, leading to missed information and incomplete assignments.

Research indicates that girls diagnosed with ADHD are prone to scoring lower grades compared to their peers without the condition. 

According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the overall grade point average (GPA) of girls with ADHD was 2.9, while non-ADHD students averaged 3.6.

What's more, it's not just about academics. Social interactions at school are also affected when dealing with ADHD in women and girls. They might face difficulties making friends or fitting into social circles due to impulsive behaviour or difficulty following conversations.

Here are some common challenges faced by girls with ADHD:

  • Difficulty in maintaining attention during classes

  • Struggling with organising tasks or activities

  • Forgetfulness in daily activities

  • Frequently losing necessary items like books and stationery

  • Impulsivity leading to possible social issues

In some cases, these challenges might lead a girl's self-confidence and motivation for schoolwork to plummet over time.

Early diagnosis and intervention can significantly improve the school performance of girls struggling with this disorder. 

Tailoring teaching techniques that cater specifically towards helping them focus better, such as incorporating more physical activity or giving them frequent breaks, could be beneficial strategies schools should consider adopting.

ADHD's Role in Women’s Mental Health

Understanding female ADHD is crucial as it impacts various aspects of a woman’s life, from academic performance and career progression to relationships and self-perception. 

Women with ADHD are more likely than their male counterparts to suffer from anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and eating disorders.

Here's a quick look at some compelling figures:

ADHD's Role in Women’s Mental Health

As previously discussed, women with untreated ADHD often struggle with low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy due to difficulties managing daily tasks. This continuous struggle can lead to chronic stress and burnout.

While these statistics may seem daunting, it's important for you to remember that understanding female ADHD is the first step towards effectively managing it. 

By recognising the signs early on, such as difficulty focusing on tasks or impulsivity, you can seek help from professionals skilled in diagnosing and treating this condition.

Effective Treatment Options for Female ADHD Patients

Effective Treatment Options for Female ADHD Patients

Finding the right treatment plan for girls and women with ADHD can be a game-changer. It's all about understanding female ADHD and tailoring interventions to meet individual needs. 

Let's take a look at some of these effective options:


Medication is often a significant part of managing ADHD in women. Stimulant medications, such as methylphenidate and amphetamine salts, are commonly prescribed. They work by enhancing activity in certain areas of the brain that regulate attention and behaviour.

Behavioural Therapies

Behavioural therapies can also play an important role in treatment. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) helps patients understand how their thoughts impact their actions. 

For girls dealing with ADHD, CBT can provide strategies for managing impulsivity and improving focus at school or work.

Here are some more specifics:

  • Psychoeducation: This involves teaching patients about ADHD and helping them understand why they act or feel the way they do.

  • Social skills training: Girls with ADHD often struggle with peer relationships. This type of intervention aids them in learning how to interact effectively with others.

  • Parenting strategies: Instructing parents on how to provide structure at home can reduce symptoms in children.

Mindfulness Techniques

Mindfulness techniques may also prove beneficial for those grappling with female ADHD. Techniques such as yoga or meditation help improve concentration and reduce impulsivity, providing another useful tool in your arsenal against this condition.

Coping Strategies for Women with ADHD

If you're a woman living with ADHD, it's essential to understand that there's no one-size-fits-all solution. What works for someone else might not necessarily work for you. 

It's all about identifying what suits your unique circumstances and implementing strategies that empower you to thrive.


Firstly, let's talk about organisation. Now, this can be a challenge when dealing with ADHD, but don't worry! There are numerous tools available to help manage your day-to-day activities effectively.

  • Planners and Apps: Planners can be a lifesaver when it comes to staying on track. Smartphone apps like Google Calendar or Outlook may also come in handy for managing appointments and deadlines.

  • Timers: A simple kitchen timer or a phone timer could help manage tasks more efficiently by dividing them into manageable chunks of time.


Next up is self-care. Sounds cliché, but it's pivotal in managing ADHD symptoms.

  • Regular Exercise: Physical activity has been shown to reduce ADHD symptoms dramatically. It doesn't have to be high intensity; something as simple as daily walks could make a significant difference.

  • Healthy Diet: Consuming balanced meals regularly throughout the day can maintain energy levels and focus.

Seek Professional Support

In addition, seeking professional support plays an integral role in understanding female ADHD better.

  • Therapy/Counselling: Therapists can provide practical coping strategies tailored specifically for women with ADHD. They offer useful insights into how your brain functions and assist in developing methods that work best for you.

Join Support Groups

Finally, joining support groups (both online and offline) where individuals share their personal experiences of living with adult ADHD often proves beneficial.

Living successfully as an adult woman with ADHD isn't just possible; it’s probable once equipped with effective coping mechanisms and supports around you!

Wrapping Up: Understanding and Supporting Females with ADHD

ADHD in girls can look different compared to their male counterparts. It's not about being hyperactive or disruptive. Instead, it might mean being dreamy, disorganised, or excessively talkative. 

Moreover, societal pressures often force women with ADHD to work twice as hard just to stay afloat. This can lead to chronic stress and burnout if they don't receive the right support. 

That said, understanding female ADHD isn’t just about recognising symptoms; it’s also about acknowledging the challenges faced by women living with this disorder and offering them your unwavering support. 

Together, we can ensure those living with female ADHD feel seen, heard, and valued.