When you think of ADHD, what image immediately springs to mind? For me, it was the hyperactive/ impulsive side. The side that gives kids the stereotype of the ‘naughty’ kid in class. Bouncing off the walls, unable to sit still, never raising their hands, blurting out the answer, not waiting their turn. This is largely how boys will present ADHD, which is why society believes that ADHD is predominantly a ‘boys’ problem’. But it is not. Just because the girls with ADHD are not necessarily bouncing off the walls does not make it any less real. And unfortunately means they are less likely to be diagnosed for ADHD
Signs of Inattentive ADHD
Poor Listening Skills and Focus – Typically a child will only listen to half the instructions being told to them before ‘zoning out’. They will constantly be reprimanded for ‘Not listening’ or paying attention.
Various Unfinished Projects – starting but not completing tasks, chores or assignments is a key sign of inattentive ADHD. They may have great ideas but are just unable to stay focused to complete that task. They can get side-tracked or distracted and wander off.
Constantly Losing Things – whilst we all lose things (including our marbles!) this is on another level. Since a person with ADHD will be thinking of so many other things as they put their object down, they rarely can remember where they put things.
Careless Mistakes – Often children with ADHD will rush through everything. This will be the same for their schoolwork. They will miss out on sections, not because they cannot do them, but because they are in a hurry. Even if you try to tell them to slow down, they just cannot seem to. It is mentally painful for them.
Bad Time Management – Oh my! If I told you how long it takes to get my son to eat a bowl of cereal before school your toes would curl, and your cornflakes go soggy! He just cannot get it at all. Despite being able to tell the time, he just cannot get organised in that set timeframe.
WHY DO GIRLS WITH ADHD GO UNNOTICED?
This is normally because statistically, girls display the above, more inattentive side. They might be called little daydreamers or even ditzy… Often in a classroom setting, they will be working doubly hard to keep up with their peers. This can hide their challenges. They may be so aware of this struggle which can be very damaging to their self-esteem. Girls are more likely to blame themselves for failure in an exam. Alternatively, boys have been shown to blame the teacher or the ‘hard test’. I know my daughter is always calling herself stupid, which is heart-breaking.
If they do have hyperactive or impulsive symptoms and talk lots, then they will probably just be called Little Miss Chatterbox or overly emotional. Boys are approximately three times more likely to get diagnosed than girls. On average, girls are diagnosed five years later than boys, (boys approx. 7 and girls are around 12 years old). Sadly, there are many girls who never get diagnosed with ADHD despite having it.
If you have ever worked in a classroom, I have (!), you tend to notice the loud kids that shout out and seem difficult to control. You are far less likely to be concerned about the quiet ones. The ones that seem to be getting on, albeit needing a few prompts to continue their work.
Studies have shown that girls are more likely to try and compensate for their ADHD by HYPER-FOCUSSING on things they do well. They project a perfectionist personality and can do so well in that topic that no one would dream they had ADHD. But the executive function overload on that child to achieve in that subject will no doubt have an extremely detrimental effect on other areas of their lives. It simply is too much strain to be able to do everything.
GIRLS AND PEERS
Girls’ relationships are often more complex than boy relationships. I know that is a very generalised statement but for me, in my experience, it is true. Girls’ friendships rely a great deal on reading the cues and emotions of their friends. Something which does not come easy to girls with ADHD. This may then come across as rude and/or unsympathetic.
My daughter with ADHD very much likes to be in control. I always remember when she was little and having playdates. I would listen outside the door and would need to step in if I could hear her becoming too bossy. And by bossy, I mean, no fun and a list of her rules that her playdate would have to abide by! I also noticed that she befriended children who were shorter than her. She would then play the teacher in the classroom scenario and boss them around. She did not like the fact that sometimes shorter could mean feistier!
The problem is that whichever way ADHD presents itself, it needs to be treated. Children with ADHD tend to struggle in school, work, and relationships. Probably due to many of these issues, it’s no surprise that they then go on to develop other conditions such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders. These could all be prevented or at the very least eased if tackled early on. This is the key. With girls with ADHD not being picked up as having ADHD as quickly as boys, they are missing out on early intervention.
However, let us not forget that knowing how complex ADHD is, we can also have the reverse. Girls can present like ‘a boy’ and boys can present like ‘a girl’. This is where some boys can slip through the gaps too. It is the inattentive side that people just do not seem to associate with ADHD but can cause so many problems for that child. I guess I was ‘lucky’. Both my children with ADHD display the hyperactivity side which was quickly picked up.
Honestly, it was not until I started reading up on ADHD that I realised how complex an issue ADHD truly is. But all is not lost!
Going back to the classic signs of Inattentive ADHD. There are some amazingly simple strategies that could help. For instance, to solve my son’s time management issues, I have bought some very colourful egg timers from Amazon (click here to see my ones! I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.). They are lovely bright colours and they have varying times on them from a minute to 30 minutes. If I say you have ten minutes to eat your cereal and start the purple egg timer, he can visually see how long he has left. This really helps him stay on track.
During lockdown and the dreaded homeschooling, I noticed he functioned better when I had uplifting music playing. Not the tv, as that would visually distract him, but upbeat music helped him. I was also able to let him walk around the table every time he finished a question. If your child is lucky enough to have a 1:1 teaching support staff, it may be worth mentioning these short breaks that can keep them on track. I doubt they will let the uplifting music play! Support staff are great for constantly checking in on the child to keep them focused, and reminding them what they are still doing. I am constantly doing little checks to keep my kids on track for getting ready for bed or school or they get distracted and start something else!
On that note, do ensure that any instruction you give your child with ADHD is clear and to the point. No waffling. Do your teeth now. Have your bath now. Or use the egg timers. Get in the bath by the time the sand has run out. If you waffle on, they will zone out and you will both become frustrated. Your child is not being lazy or naughty. They have literally not heard what you have said if your instruction is too long.
It is crucial that you have a routine for your child. I cannot stress this enough. Routine is useful for all children. If you have this in place for your child with ADHD it will be invaluable to you both. Expectations of time frames and what comes next truly helps. My children always knew they were having a bath almost immediately after their tea. They would take turns from a fairly young age running the bath. Funny thing was, one day I decided to do tea really early to stop them snacking, it was about 3:45 pm. Straight after I heard the bath running and they were all ready for bed by 4:30! Dream night!
In conclusion, I think it is extremely important for parents (and teachers, carers etc) to be aware that ADHD is not just hyperactivity. And that girls can get ADHD too! Raising awareness of all signs of ADHD is vital so that the inattentive side of ADHD does not go undiagnosed. It equally requires treatment. You could have two siblings with ADHD that present in totally different ways, both of which need to be addressed. As I always say, go with your gut.