While it is normal for everyone to have trouble focusing, those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often have severe symptoms that can cause a lot of difficulties at home, with friends or at school or university. Unfortunately, ADHD often manifests differently in girls than it does in boys and, as a result, many girls are never diagnosed. This means that many girls are never given the treatment they need, and are left to struggle mentally, socially and academically. 

According to Healthline, ADHD is one of the most common conditions diagnosed in children. It is a “neurodevelopmental disorder that causes various hyperactive and disruptive behaviors. Symptoms of ADHD often include difficulty focusing, sitting still, and staying organised. Many children show signs of this disorder before age 7, but some remain undiagnosed until adulthood”. There are also “significant differences in how the condition manifests in boys and girls. This can affect how ADHD is recognised and diagnosed”.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), boys are three times more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than girls. Healthline explains that this disparity is not necessarily because girls are less susceptible to the disorder, however, it is “likely because ADHD symptoms present differently in girls. The symptoms are often more subtle and, as a result, harder to identify”. Research has shown that “boys with ADHD usually show externalised symptoms, such as running and impulsivity. Girls with ADHD, on the other hand, typically show internalised symptoms. These symptoms include inattentiveness and low self-esteem”. These symptoms can also include being withdrawn, low self-esteem, anxiety, intellectual impairment or difficulty with academic achievement.  

Since girls with ADHD “often display fewer behavioural problems and less noticeable symptoms, their difficulties are often overlooked”, explains Healthline. “As a result, they aren’t referred for evaluation or treatment. This can lead to additional problems in the future”. ADHD can be managed through “a combination of behaviour therapy and medication”, explains the CDC. If the ADHD remains undiagnosed, however, it is much more difficult to manage these symptoms and many girls continue to struggle as a result. This means that these symptoms will persist as female students go to university and will continue to make it difficult for these students to succeed academically and socially. Ari Tuckman, psychologist and author of More Attention, Less Deficit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD, explains that not treating ADHD can have many risks, including “[doing] badly in school, having social struggles, greater substance use, more car accidents, less likely to attend and then graduate college”. 

Treatment for ADHD in women and girls is essential since ADHD can impact their ability to function well in life, but it all starts with diagnosis. “When you know what you’re dealing with you can actually change the trajectory of your life, in all areas”, says Linda Roggli, founder of the ADDiva Network. Tuckman also explains that there is “a price paid in additional suffering from withholding a treatment that research shows is beneficial”.

Image: Masehle Mailula

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I’m Kirsten, a law student who loves writing, making spreadsheets and consuming an unhealthy amount of caffeine.
I love writing about student issues and current events.