ADHD in women and girls

young woman studying at a long table in denim shirt over white tshirt with long black hair and black rimmed glasses.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in women and girls looks different than ADHD in men and boys. While there is less research into how ADHD affects women (and even less across the sex and gender spectrum), it’s an important and emerging topic. 

There are plenty of ways for women and girls to manage ADHD, including professional support, therapy, medication and practical self-management strategies. 

Remember that while living with ADHD has its challenges, it also has its advantages. By embracing your strengths and getting the support you need, you can learn to manage ADHD effectively and to live a meaningful life. 

What is ‘attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)’?

ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a condition that affects how people focus, stay organised and manage their time. People with ADHD might be impulsive or get distracted easily, but they are also often creative and great problem solvers.

While there’s no doubt that ADHD can be challenging to live with, women with ADHD are increasingly recognising the strengths and benefits that can come with it. 

Mim Skinner (an author living with ADHD) says:

‘Being very aware that my brain cannot perform all the necessary tasks means I’m never too self-reliant. I’m good at celebrating those in a team who have skills that I don’t. I’m able to have multiple interests and have a go at anything. Knowing my flaws makes me a good team player.’ 

How is ADHD in women different from ADHD in men?

ADHD in women and girls can be quite different from ADHD in men and boys. This research review found that ADHD is diagnosed more often in boys than in girls. Women and girls are more likely to have more symptoms of inattentiveness than men and boys, who are more likely to have more symptoms of hyperactivity and/or impulsiveness. 

Women and girls with ADHD also frequently experience anxiety and depression, which can lead to a missed or incorrect diagnosis. If not properly diagnosed and treated, women with ADHD face similar challenges to men, such as poor academic performance and behavioural issues. 

Hormonal changes in women and girls can influence how ADHD manifests and how treatments work. There is a strong need for more research in this area, but emerging research suggests that cycle tracking apps or tools can help women to find links between their ADHD symptom patterns and hormonal fluctuations. 

Studies also show that women with ADHD are more vulnerable to hormone-related mood disorders such as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), postpartum depression, and mood disorders during puberty and menopause. 

Common ADHD symptoms in women and teen girls

The most common symptoms of ADHD in women and teen girls include:

  • trouble concentrating on tasks or conversations

  • being easily distracted

  • difficulty with time management and staying organised

  • hyperfocusing on tasks that interest them but having difficulty focusing on other tasks

  • fidgeting or having trouble sitting still for long periods

  • acting without thinking through the consequences 

  • heightened sensitivity to stress 

  • feelings of being overwhelmed by academic or social demands.

What is ‘ADHD masking’?

ADHD masking involves developing coping mechanisms to ‘mask’ symptoms, which can make them harder to spot. It’s more common in women than in men. Masking can include trying hard not to interrupt someone, using reminders to avoid forgetting things, and developing strict routines as a way to stay organised. 

Historically, women and girls were not getting considered for ADHD diagnosis because they engage in more masking behaviours, or their symptoms were not being observed by the people around them as having any relation to Neurodiversity. Whereas boys and men were more expressive in their symptoms – and typically displayed symptoms that were stereotypically more aligned with ADHD and were therefore picked up more often.’ – Rashida Dungarwalla, Registered Psychologist

Effects of ADHD in girls

ADHD in girls can have significant effects on various aspects of their lives, including on their academic/school life and social life. Here are ways ADHD can affect your life that you might not expect.

How can ADHD affect my schooling?

Girls with ADHD may struggle with paying attention in class, organising their work and completing their assignments on time. If not treated, this can have an impact on their academic performance, so it’s important to get support if you think you might have ADHD. 

How can ADHD affect my social life?

ADHD can affect your social life due to impulsiveness, forgetfulness and difficulty in reading social cues. If these symptoms make it difficult for you to maintain friendships, it can lead to feeling isolated or rejected. Getting support around these issues will be hugely helpful in increasing your self-esteem and reducing social anxiety. 

How can I find out if I have ADHD?

To find out if you have ADHD, seek a comprehensive assessment from a trained specialist. If your symptoms are affecting your school, work or social life, seeing your GP for a referral to get an ADHD assessment is a good starting point. This article has a lot more information on this process. 

Although getting assessed for ADHD in Australia can be a time-intensive and expensive process, there are other ways to get support. Here are some practical things you can do to manage your symptoms.

ADHD treatment for women and girls

The good news is that there are lots of different treatments for ADHD in women. Therapy and medication are the two main types of treatment. 

ADHD therapy for women and girls

Mental health professionals such as psychologists, counsellors and social workers can help you to manage ADHD symptoms. They can listen to your challenges and provide expert advice, and use therapy methods that have been found to be effective for ADHD, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and acceptance commitment therapy (ACT). They can also help you to manage anxiety and depression, which are common in women with ADHD.

ADHD medication for women and girls

ADHD medication can be effective, especially when combined with professional support and practical strategies. Two main types of medication are used for ADHD:

  1. Stimulants: These increase dopamine levels in the brain, which helps to reduce distraction and hyperactivity. 

  2. Non-stimulants: Often used when stimulants cause too many side effects. They can take longer to start working, sometimes up to several weeks.

I think I might have ADHD. What should I do next?

If you think you might have ADHD, the first step is to see a medical professional or to talk to someone you trust. Medical professionals such as GPs can direct you to relevant support options, and talking to someone you trust can help you to feel less alone. 

This article can answer other questions you might have and help you to figure out your next steps. If you’re aged 18–25, you can also chat about what you’re experiencing to a peer worker through ReachOut’s free text-based PeerChat service.

There’s no doubt that living with ADHD has its challenges. But, by taking action and getting the support you need, you can live a meaningful and fulfilling life.