The Diagnosis Gap: Girls With ADHD

A lot of people don’t think I’m very smart when they first meet me. I’ve had dozens of friends tell me that when they first met me, they believed I was a bit of a ditz. It isn’t something I take offense to anymore, it just isn’t my favourite thing. But I get it.

I daydream a lot, I’m verbally impulsive and my attention is often short-lived. I don’t present as particularly erudite. It took a long time to figure out that I have Attention Deficit Disorder, and that it wasn’t just that my head was in the clouds or that I wasn’t built with a filter. I’m smart… but I’m operating under a constant dopamine deficit.

Girls are just as likely to have ADHD as boys are, but they are significantly less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and will often be misdiagnosed for other emotionally based psychiatric illnesses. The most common diagnosis for girls with ADHD before they get diagnosed with ADHD is depression. This is partly due to how doctors and teachers are often only taught about how ADHD presents in boys: often hyperactive youngsters who can’t stay still and will have difficulty with their grades.

Girls with ADHD often labour to compensate for and hide their symptoms, putting hours of extra work into their school so that way their grades don’t reflect that they’re struggling. Their grades, especially in elementary school, often cause no concern. Additionally, girls are more likely to be “people pleasers,” and doing everything they can to fit in… for as long as they can. But eventually, maybe in high school, university or even the workforce, there comes a point when the workload is too high to compensate anymore.

The masking, combined with the fact that girls are more likely to present with the Inattentive Subtype, less eye-grabbing than the Hyperactive Subtype, means that female symptoms are often considered a character flaw rather than a manifestation of a treatable condition. An estimated 50-75% of women with ADHD will never receive a diagnosis. Without a diagnosis, there’s no access to medications or coping strategies… instead, girls are often just lost in the chaos, not knowing why they can’t keep up with their peers. The lack of treatment often means that other conditions will begin to present, such as mood disorders or substance abuse.

Interestingly, boys often find that their symptoms lessen with severity as they age, but increased estrogen in teenage girls actually makes their symptoms worse or present for the very first time. The potential late-onset is another contributor to late diagnoses in girls.

If you’re wondering if you have ADHD, please contact your healthcare provider to refer you to a specialist. Receiving a diagnosis and receiving treatment can improve your quality of life drastically.