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Is ADHD in Girls Different?

little girl starring out the window

If you are asking yourself the question "What does ADHD in girls look like?" you are already a step ahead of the game for your daughter. According to; ADHD in girls often goes under-diagnosed and is misunderstood because many of the signs and symptoms that girls display are "drowned out by the loud, hyperactive boys who demonstrate the condition’s stereotypical behavior." To further understand how ADHD impacts girls, particularly their mental health, we sat down with two women who were diagnosed with ADHD as children and are now college students.

elementary school girl smiling on the school bus

We talked (virtually) with Shannon Carroll, an education student at Gwynedd Mercy University; and Erin Rooney a Business Administration student at Montgomery County Community College. Both of these women are in their early 20's and were both diagnosed with ADHD earlier in their lives. Carroll was diagnosed in 2013 when she was a junior in high school, and Rooney was diagnosed much earlier at the age of 7. These women have had very different experiences with their ADHD and its impacts on their mental health but now as they are both nearing the end of their schooling they have reflected on how it impacted them as a child and student, and how things changed for them after getting a diagnosis.

"It was incredibly draining honestly. I had bad grades and felt like I was never succeeding. I felt a lot of times like I was a failure. It had a huge impact on my schoolwork and subsequently my mental health." said Carroll about how her ADHD impacted her before her diagnosis. It is very common for young girls who have ADHD to not be diagnosed until later in their educational career, or even their life. Many don't exhibit the behaviors that people associate with ADHD. According to some common signs and symptoms for ADHD in girls and women include:

  • daydreaming quietly in class

  • feeling anxious or sad

  • exhibiting silliness or apparent ditziness

  • acting shy or inattentive

  • trouble maintaining friendships

  • picking at cuticles or skin

  • being a perfectionist

Rooney on the other hand had a radically different experience with ADHD. "I was very wild in school, I just couldn't control myself. I couldn't pay attention at all. I couldn't calm down for class. I was so bored and couldn't sit and focus. I was also very talkative and just wanted to interact with my classmates; not focus on the lesson." She remembers it having a major impact on her mental health because much like Carroll she wondered what was wrong with her. She would start a task and rarely ever finish it because she would be distracted by something else.

"It made me think I was stupid, even at such a young age. I thought something was wrong with me." Rooney's parents sought out a therapist for her at the age of 7 after one day in CCD class she stood on the table and began to throw crayons at her classmates while singing the song Hot Blooded at the top of her lungs. This goes to show that signs and symptoms of ADHD not only can be different for girls but are also different for each individual child that has it.

Because Carroll and Rooney were diagnosed at such different stages of their lives their experiences differed but one thing that was present for both of them was a feeling of embarrassment before, and after getting diagnosed with ADHD. Before getting that diagnosis they were embarrassed by the fact that they didn't think they were like other students, and felt as though they were "stupid" and after their diagnosis, they were both embarrassed by the fact that they got "extra attention" from their teachers. "I thought there was something wrong with me. I had to go to counseling and none of my friends were doing it. Now that I am older I see how many people I know also have ADHD and that there is nothing wrong with me. As I have matured I have gotten better control of it and have developed ways to help myself focus," said Rooney.

student smiling holder her book and backpack

Carroll was older than Rooney when diagnosed, but also experienced embarrassment at school. "I have an auditory tracking disorder and an eye-tracking disorder too. My parents had me see a specialist and a therapist. I still see a therapist. I was embarrassed in school when they would pull me out of class for individual attention," said Carroll. While she did have an initial feeling of embarrassment she mentioned that she did see a sharp increase in her grades after her diagnosis. She also mentioned that her teachers were incredibly accommodating and she was able to take a majority of her tests orally. The thing that helped her grades jump from 2.4 to 3.4 was getting prescribed the medication, Vyvanse. While her grades skyrocketed her mental health took a sharp turn downward. "I was on it for 6 months and it made me really depressed. I had no social life, I isolated myself from all of my friends and peers. My grades went up but I was not myself," said Carroll.

Rooney also had a negative experience with medication when she was prescribed it at the age of 10 and stopped taking it because of rapid weight loss. Around the age of 20, she went back to a therapist and got a new prescription and it has been a much better experience this time around and it now helps her to better focus on work and her schoolwork.

student at her outdoor locker getting her books and backpack

Both Carroll and Rooney had to switch to distance learning at the beginning of COVID and this has proven to be challenging for them to both transition to. "Having that in-person connection with my teachers helps my grades enormously," said Carroll. "I had a really hard time focusing online because of all the distractions around me. I will be sitting there on my laptop in class and a text will come across my screen or I will start scrolling through social media on my phone," said Carroll. She said that one of her professors sends students to breakout groups often to break up some of the heavy lectures and help develop that relationship between peers and she has found that helpful. For Rooney finding a quiet and distraction-free environment has been the key to her distance learning success.

Carroll wants to be a teacher once she finishes school and when asked how her experience with having ADHD will impact her as an educator she said, "I think it gives me a perspective that not a lot of teachers have. I will be able to see myself in kids who are struggling or don't even know they are struggling and be someone who speaks up and advocates for them. I think it is a perspective that will help me a lot as a teacher."

Are you concerned about your child's mental health but not sure where to turn?

Are you a parent who's overwhelmed trying to help your child who has been diagnosed with a mental health challenge or you're concerned that they may struggle with one?

Are you tired of the red tape you get as you just try to get your child the help they need?

At the Parent Alliance we get it. We've been there and we are here to support you. Join the FREE community of parents just like you here.


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