Odds are, you haven’t met many girls who have been legitimately diagnosed with ADHD, if you’ve met any at all. A lot of girls joke around about having it, or they think they have it, but almost none of them have been diagnosed by a professional.
Why is that? Is ADHD a disorder that really only can manifest in boys? If so, what makes boys so much more disposed to it?
Boys are statistically three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD, but the truth is, scientists can’t really find many reasons why boys SHOULD have it more often than girls. What they’re finding is that the symptoms look different in girls, which means they’re much more likely to be overlooked.
It’s important to know that Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder is often outgrown because many of the symptoms are caused by a delay in maturity of the brain. A lot of kids don’t have any permanent “differences” in their brains; they just haven’t quite caught up yet, so they’re still experiencing the immaturity of two or three years ago.
Think of the difference in attention span from age three to age six. Or the increase in hand-eye coordination. Or the extra ability to sit still. Or the ability to control their impulses. It all grows so much in those three years!
That’s the difference most ADHD kids are working with. By the time they’ve reached full brain maturation in adulthood, they’ve caught up with everyone else and their “symptoms” are no longer there.
For some, however, the symptoms never go away because there are actual structural differences in the brain. The ability to focus is never really achieved.
It’s also important to know that ADHD isn’t just bouncing off the walls. It’s also excessive daydreaming, inability to focus for an age-appropriate amount of time, interrupting, and blurting out. And depending on the person, it can be a combination of those things, or only a few.
Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD looks like the motor that never shuts off. They blurt out a lot, they interrupt, they cut in line, they’re very talkative.
Inattentive ADHD looks like the daydreamers. The space cadets. The ones who aren’t noticed, but somehow still struggle academically.
Combined ADHD is both.
For whatever reason, girls are more frequently diagnosed with Inattentive ADHD. This explains a huge part of why girls are underdiagnosed. They’re simply not noticed.
Because what teacher is going to submit a referral form for a kid who is quiet and doesn’t make any trouble?
For a long time, I thought that was the ONLY reason girls were underdiagnosed. However, after living with a little girl who shows a lot of signs of ADHD (excessive energy, inability to focus, lack of impulse control, and LOTS of daydreaming), I finally realized the other reason girls don’t get diagnosed.
You see, my little girl is in full blown ADHD mode (if that’s what it ends up being) when she’s at home. She’s loud, crazy, impulsive, hilarious, inattentive, and often called “the running motor.” When I watch her, I think, “How could anyone NOT see an attention deficit in her?”
My husband and I have both worked in behavior for several years, and I used to write a different blog for Psych Central about ADHD called “Loving a Child with ADHD.”
The signs and symptoms are pretty easy for me to spot, but even to the untrained eye, I always thought hers would be noticeable.
Yet, when she was in daycare last year, her teacher said, “She’s always the best in the class. She’s so quiet. She’s obedient, she’s helpful, she’s kind.”
And then she’d come home, and it was like someone had lifted the cap off. I was always so afraid it was our parenting that made her behavior shift.
But I’m confident that it’s not. We parent calmly and firmly.
When I watched my daughter at swim lessons this month, I finally understood where the disparity was coming from.
When my kiddo is in an activity where another adult is in charge (besides me or dad), she goes into “inattentive mode” as opposed to “hyperactive mode.” I watched her so closely, and I saw her staring off into space most of the time. Each lesson would go by, every night of the week, and each night, she was overlooked by her teachers. They didn’t even notice her.
The kids who wouldn’t sit still or were making lots of noise were noticed. But my kiddo, who was playing with a bug in the water quietly, was overlooked.
They would go through lessons where each kid had to participate individually, but my little girl was the only one who never did it. A couple of times, she leaned over the edge of the pool and whispered to me, “I didn’t get to do it.”
I don’t say this to seek sympathy. She’s totally fine, and the teachers were doing the best they could. I’m merely pointing out that I noticed a drastic difference in her behavior when she was with other adults.
When we got home, the lid popped off again, and she was right back to sprinting circles around the living room.
It’s not our parenting that changes her behavior. It’s not that she can control it out of the house and then CHOOSES not to control it at home. It’s that she has learned a survival skill for when she’s socially uncomfortable (as in when she’s with adults she doesn’t trust), and then she finally gets to breathe when she’s back at home.
She acts like her “normal” self at our relatives’ houses and when she’s with our close friends. She’s different when she’s at school, at swim lessons, or in a large group of people. She disappears into the back of the crowd and starts daydreaming.
THAT’S why girls are so underdiagnosed.
Hopefully this revelation helps some of you understand what your little girls are going through, too.