Gender Differences in ADHD

Did you know that there are gender differences in ADHD? Because of this, many girls wait years to receive the diagnosis and help they need.
Gender Differences in ADHD
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 01 January, 2023

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is highly prevalent in children. Many children under the age of 18 years receive this diagnosis, but another large percentage remain without official recognition until long after the first symptoms appear. However, this difficulty in identifying the disorder is much more pronounced in the case of girls, due to the important gender differences in ADHD.

The manifestations of this disorder are very varied and several subtypes have even been identified depending on the predominant alterations. Boys and girls aren’t uniformly represented in these variants. In addition, most of the studies carried out have been conducted in boys. For these reasons, it’s important to know the distinctive characteristics of each gender.

A boy with ADHD in a therapy session with his mom,

The manifestations of ADHD

In general, ADHD is diagnosed three times more often in male children. However, perhaps this difference is due to the fact that there’s a large number of girls who aren’t recognized as having this condition. To better understand this reality, let’s remember that the disorder presents three characteristic symptoms:

  • Inattention: Manifested by an inability to sustain attention, follow instructions, and organize properly. In addition, tasks and conversations are abandoned before they’re finished and there’s difficulty paying attention to details.
  • Hyperactivity: The child moves and talks excessively, even at inappropriate times. They have difficulty relaxing and staying still for long periods of time.
  • Impulsivity: Impulsive children don’t take turns, are impatient and dominant, and act without thinking about the consequences.

Now, some of these symptoms are more striking and easily detectable. Therefore, hyperactivity and impulsivity are easily recognized; they’re more noticeable and tend to attract more attention from adults, as they produce more discomfort and hinder the normal functioning of classes or life at home.

On the contrary, inattention is something more subjective that the child experiences but doesn’t manifest outwardly in such a clear way. Sometimes the symptoms of inattention are attributed to a lack of organization or study skills on the part of the child and the fact that there may be an underlying problem isn’t taken into consideration.

The importance of gender differences in ADHD

What happens then? There are important gender differences in ADHD and its symptoms. That is, males, more frequently, show manifestations of hyperactivity and impulsivity. They’re restless, impatient, impertinent, and suffer more often from other types of associated behavioral disorders. Therefore, it’s easier for parents and teachers to identify that something is wrong and carry out the relevant tests and analysis.

In the case of girls, they fall mostly into the inattentive type of ADHD. For the same reason, their greatest difficulties lie in the lack of organization, constant distractions, or the tendency to fantasize excessively. In addition, the most common associated disorders are internalizing, related to anxiety.

A child who's bored and distracted in class.

This type of manifestation generates less interference and is more easily compensated. Therefore, girls are calmer and have fewer learning difficulties, especially in the early years. These cases usually go unnoticed compared to boys.

What about undiagnosed girls?

As with any condition, an early diagnosis is helpful. By obtaining one, the situation the child’s going through can be better understood and the necessary aids and tools can be provided. Due to gender differences in ADHD, diagnosis in girls is delayed for several years. Often, it’s not until the arrival of high school education that these young girls receive the attention they need.

This means that during the most formative and relevant years of their development, they’ve had difficulties that have been left unattended. This not only affects the acquisition of academic skills and knowledge, but also the self-esteem of the girls themselves, who may grow up thinking that something’s wrong with them.

For the same reason, it’s essential to be aware that it’s the symptoms of inattention that are most evident in these girls and to which we must pay the most attention. A timely diagnosis can help these little ones receive the necessary resources to develop in the best possible way.

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