A lot of us know the symptoms of ADHD (see The Three Different Types of ADHD), but not many people know that ADHD often manifests differently in boys and girls.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), boys with ADHD tend to exhibit more external symptoms while girls with ADHD tend to exhibit more internal symptoms. This could mean that boys show more “obvious” signs of ADHD, whereas girls show signs that might only be noticeable to someone who’s paying really close attention.
Impulsiveness is one sign of ADHD. In boys, this often looks like running out into traffic, leaping off of tables, breaking something, or acting like a “class clown.” In girls, however, impulsiveness can be subtler. It can look like crossing emotional boundary lines with friends/boyfriends (or even strangers), or spilling their secrets to someone they just met, or playing with a dog that most people would be scared of.
Both types showcase impulsiveness, but girls are statistically more likely to show impulsive in the less obvious ways.
There are also other signs of ADHD, which vary depending on whether the person has Inattentive ADHD, Hyperactive ADHD, or Combined ADHD. If a child has the inattentive type of ADHD, they’ll be less capable of paying attention and focusing. If they have the hyperactive type of ADHD, they’ll be less capable of controlling their motor movements and will have high levels of energy. With Combined ADHD, they struggle with both.
According to childmind.org and healthline.com, boys are more likely to have the hyperactive type of ADHD, whereas girls are more likely to have the inattentive type. It doesn’t always happen this way (because either gender can technically have either type of ADHD, and some kids have Combined ADHD), but these are the typical patterns.
If we take all of that into account, we can see why boys are 8% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, even though girls could technically have just as much of a chance of having it as boys do. The problem is that boys’ symptoms are generally easier to notice.
ADHD in boys is most likely to look like extreme levels of energy, fidgeting, impulsive actions, hyper-attentiveness to certain things (like video games), or being too loud in class. Those aren’t symptoms you’re going to miss. They’re right up in your face.
All. The. Time.
Girls with ADHD, however, show symptoms that are more likely to look like missed homework assignments, lost keys, disorganized lockers, flakiness, or “space cadet” tendencies. In fact, a lot of girls are misdiagnosed as having a learning disability instead of being diagnosed with ADHD because people are so quick to dismiss it in them. It’s a lot easier to pinpoint ADHD in someone who’s bouncing off the walls and causing a disruption in school than it is to pinpoint ADHD in someone who hardly ever talks.
Healthline.com states that girls who have ADHD are more likely than boys to become depressed, anxious, or have low self-esteem because they are so prone to internalizing their symptoms. Boys with ADHD tend to shove their symptoms outward while girls tend to bury them inward.
Really, it’s very similar to every other facet of life with boys versus girls. Males tend to project onto others while females tend to project unto themselves. Neither option is healthier than the other because when it comes to ADHD, both versions require intervention of some sort (whether by medication, therapy, diet changes, or whatever else).
For any child/teen who has ADHD, remember to be aware of what their diagnosis involves. Remember that both genders can struggle with any of the above symptoms (no two people are the same and people don’t live in boxes), and make sure you keep an eye on them for any areas they’re struggling.
With the quiet, inattentive types–be it boys or girls–watch for signs of anxiety, depression, bullying, or low self-esteem.
With the louder, more impulsive, hyperactive types–be it boys or girls–watch for signs of dangerous behavior and problems with authority figures.
*****If you or someone you know needs to speak with a trained professional about suicide, you can reach the suicide prevention hotline here:
And if you or someone you know needs professional advice on coping with ADHD, you can reach the ADHD helpline here:
What are your ADHD children like? Do you have ADHD students?
Tell us about the differences between the boys and girls you know who have it.