How ADHD Is Different in Females

“Sarah is always daydreaming. I can never get her focused to do anything…homework, cleaning up her room or watching her little brothers,” describes her mother, Julie. “Sometimes she just disappears into her own world.”

According to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), “Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disorder with its onset in early childhood, and is characterized by symptoms of hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity that interfere with daily and occupational functioning.” Sometimes girls present with hyperactivity and struggle with self-control. However, females with ADHD are generally quieter and show more subtle symptoms. Their minds wander, and they are known for daydreaming.

ADHD often occurs in combination with other diagnoses and can be mistaken for mood disorders, anxiety, depression or other related conditions. Left untreated, females with ADHD may develop anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, eating disorders or obesity. Some of the many issues include increased stress levels, difficulty with relationships, poor health habits and decreased coping skills.

“My brain is too loud,” claims Nikki, a University of Minnesota junior majoring in Journalism, who struggles with ADHD.
“Sometimes I have a lack of ability to force myself to do tasks.” She adds, “I really have to be under pressure to get things done, but this produces so much anxiety.”

ADHD does not mean intellectual impairment,” stresses Rachel Beukema, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Zumbro Valley Health Center. She observes, “Many times a person will not be discovered to have ADHD until their demands exceed their abilities to do higher-level executive functioning tasks such as paying attention for a longer period of time, planning and organizing, starting tasks and staying focused on them, managing emotions and keeping track of what they are doing.”

Many females are not diagnosed until they are adults. Scientific research strongly suggests ADHD is hereditary and not preventable or curable. However, it can be successfully managed. Many different treatments and interventions often combine medication, psychotherapy and stress management.

Beukema notes, “An ADHD coach can help individuals work on their daily routine and simplify their lives with management skills. When individuals seek help, some describe it like the clouds have parted and it makes their minds clearer and they are able to handle more.”

“It is important to get the accommodations that are deserved,” emphasizes Laurie Keller, a fourth-grade teacher at Saint Francis Catholic School. Keller adds, “It is not a negative component but can be a gift, especially because these students can multi-task and can be very imaginative.” Keller works with parents to form a team and develop a trusted relationship with her students. She stresses, “Education is more than knowledge and curriculum but, most importantly, the life lessons that are taught.”

ADHD minds are bright and innovative and think outside the box. Strengths that often coexist in those with ADHD include empathy, creativity, enthusiasm, and the ability to work well under pressure. They thrive as artists, entrepreneurs, chefs, managers and writers.

Federal Laws that govern accommodations and disabilities services:

  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Common possible academic accommodations after formal evaluation:

  • Additional time on tests
  • Written instructions
  • Modified assignments
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Frequent feedback
  • Technological assistance
  • Scheduled breaks
  • Tailored seating
  • Organizational help

Strategies for self-help:

  • Simplify life
  • Make lists
  • Use calendars
  • Develop structure and organization
  • Schedule personal time
  • Divide things into small tasks
  • Use incentives to get things done
  • Develop healthy life habits
  • Get enough sleep

Women with Attention Deficit Disorder: Embrace Your Differences and Transform Your Life By Sari Solden, MS, LMFT
The Queen of Distraction: How Women with ADHD Can Conquer Chaos, Find Focus and Get More Done By Terry Matlen, MSW
ADHD Signs Hidden in Plain Sight: Overlooked Symptoms (

About Author

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Maka is the owner of WaveMaker Consulting, LLC and a freelance writer and educator based in Rochester.

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