There’s a common misconception that ADHD is a disorder reserved for boys. And, to be honest, the world of modern diagnostics has not done a great job of reducing this misconception because girls still aren’t being diagnosed as often as boys. Right now, boys are three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls are, even though there’s no evidence to suggest that it’s genetically a “male” disorder.
One of the biggest obstacles in diagnosing girls is that professionals often look for symptoms that are typical of boys instead of seeing the disorder through a fluid lens. Boys who have ADHD tend to exhibit a lack of impulse control, hyperactivity, loud voice tone, and a more extroverted personality type. Girls with ADHD, however, are more likely to be daydreamers and space cadets.
Because of this difference in how symptoms manifest, and because of most professionals’ limited perspective, girls are often overlooked.
My own daughter is five and a half, and she meets all of the markers for ADHD. Surprisingly, she presents with symptoms that are typical for both genders (even though the symptoms are not gender-exclusive). She has hyperactivity and struggles with impulse control, but she also zones out a lot to the point that she doesn’t hear a word anyone is saying. When she was a toddler, we had her hearing checked several times because we thought she literally couldn’t hear us when we said her name.
An important distinction to make here is that there are three types of ADHD. There is Impulsive-Hyperactive ADHD, Inattentive-Distractible ADHD, and Combined ADHD. My daughter very clearly has the combined type, which exhibits both inattentive symptoms as well as hyperactive symptoms.
I’m not a medical doctor so I can’t diagnose her (nor would I want to), but I am an educator who has been in the world of behavioral disorders for the last half-decade. I’m confident when I say I recognize the markers in her. She also has a genetic predisposition for the disorder because her grandpa and dad both have it.
This girl has shown signs of ADHD since the day she was born.
Actually… since she was in the womb! Literally!
When I was pregnant with her, she NEVER. STOPPED. MOVING. I kept wondering how she would ever grow and develop if she never slept. But then she was born, and I realized that she even moved when she was sleeping. Even as a five year old, she still moves the entire time she’s sleeping. She rolls, kicks, talks, turns upside down, and bakes cakes. (Okay, not really, but it wouldn’t surprise me at this point.)
She also doesn’t sleep straight through the night and can subsist on very little sleep, which is typical for an ADHD person.
And when she wakes up? Oh my gosh. So much movement. My parents are always asking me, “Does that kid ever stop moving?”
The answer is no. She doesn’t.
When she enters a room, she isn’t walking into it. She’s DANCING into it, CARTWHEELING into it, or RUNNING AT WARP SPEED into it. When she sits on the couch, she’s rolling in circles or standing on her hand. She parkours across our living room furniture. She climbs up door frames with nothing but her stick little feet and somehow gets herself up on top of the fridge. She is a constant source of physical movement.
It takes so much effort for her to be still.
She also shows signs of having Sensory Processing Disorder, which is almost always co-occurring with ADHD. Loud noises cause her physical pain–she cries when the vacuum turns on or when the radio is two notches too loud–and a lot of textures are completely unbearable to her–tags in shirts, body wash with beads in it, or wind from a fan hitting her skin. Physical sensations that are normal to most of us feel overwhelming to her.
In contrast, sensations that most of us would hate, she feels comforted by. When she watches TV, she wants to be wrapped up in something that squeezes her tightly. She rolls up in blankets until they’re almost strangling her, crams her body into small boxes (maybe she’s a cat?), and hunts for seats that will envelop her on all sides like hammocks or papasan chairs. If she had a bean bag, her preference would be to have it on top of her while she hid beneath it. When she’s feeling stressed, she wants me to give her tight squeezes and massage her arms. She also likes hiding inside empty cabinets or under raised beds.
All of it is her way of seeking sensory input, which helps her regulate herself.
Her distractibility comes into play almost as often as her hyperactivity. The other day, I asked her to take something to the trash for me, which was no more than ten feet away. In the span of those ten feet, she got distracted by something she saw on the ground, decided to do a few cartwheels, and then suddenly the piece of trash was on the floor (forgotten) and she was telling me a story about a dragon.
She interrupts people when they’re talking as if she doesn’t even notice they’re speaking. She walks away from me in stores, no matter how many times I try to put the fear of God in her about being kidnapped. She still puts tiny objects in her mouth to see what they feel like, even though she’s way too old for that. She is impulsive, hyperactive, distractible, and inattentive.
And she’s awesome.
The parts of her personality that stem from having ADHD are some of my favorite pieces of her. I love how fun she is, and how she keeps the rest of us moving. I love that she never gets bored. I love getting to hold her tight when she’s overwhelmed. I love seeing what her imagination comes up with when we had her a bucket of random Legos.
I’m pretty sure my daughter has ADHD, and I’m absolutely cool with it.