ADHD: The Lost Girls

Society is quick to recognise the “hyper”, disruptive, restless, boy who plays the fool in class, is frequently in trouble and is failing to keep up with school work. For every 10 boys who are treated for ADHD in a clinic, we meet only 1 girl. Boys are readily referred for treatment even though research in the community identifies 1 girl affected for every 3 boys. There is a generation of “lost girls” who don’t get help. In the USA, it is reported that more women than girls receive treatment for ADHD. These women have often been treated for depression and anxiety and only recognised their own history of ADHD and the effects on their lives once their sons were diagnosed with the disorder.

Girls with ADHD are more likely to struggle with symptoms of inattention.  They may daydream in class, be easily distracted, seem not to listen when spoken to, struggle to follow a series of instructions, and are disorganised and forgetful. They are often shy, anxious, lack self-confidence, and may have difficulty expressing themselves. These girls may be dismissed as “not being that bright” or their anxiety may be seen as the real issue.  As the pace and volume of work increases through the grades, they often feel overwhelmed and may become depressed, anxious and even angry.

Just as boys may also present with the more inattentive subtype of ADHD, there are girls who present with the combined subtype with hyperactive/impulsive behaviours. These girls are often loud, talkative, bouncing with energy, frequently interrupt others and struggle to wait their turn. They may struggle to manage their emotions and are easily frustrated. The ADHD affects not just their learning but also their relationships at home and with friends. Incidents with peers are frequently a source of heartache. The symptoms may get worse at puberty with the simultaneous transition to high school. These girls may now require intervention for the scholastic, emotional and social consequences of the chronic, untreated ADHD.

Early detection and treatment of ADHD in girls is important. For more information consult ADDVANCE.COM


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Dr Lesley Carew is a registered Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist practising at the Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town with a satellite sessional room on Thursday afternoons at the Akeso Milnerton.


Tel: 021 423 8774/6
Fax: 086 641 5388