She’s forgotten her homework for the second time this week, and the teacher keeps talking about her trouble focusing. Sound familiar? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 6.4 million kids have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in the U.S. But boys and girls don’t get diagnosed equally—boys are diagnosed twice as often as girls are.
Why the Difference?
One reason may be that ADHD symptoms in girls frequently go unrecognized—especially since the condition often manifests with different symptoms in girls. Things like hyperactivity and impulsivity—what people usually think of when they think about ADHD—occur more frequently in boys, while less commonly recognized symptoms, like inattentiveness, are more common in girls.
Symptoms of ADHD begin around the same time for both genders, says Kelly Coppola, LCSW, CYT, a licensed clinical social worker practicing in Short Hills and Montclair. But boys are diagnosed as early as kindergarten, while girls tend to be diagnosed in middle school, high school or later. “It’s just more obvious in boys, because aggressive, impulsive or hyperactive behaviors [which are more common in boys] are difficult to ignore,” says Coppola. Girls with ADHD tend to exhibit subtle, less overt symptoms, such as forgetfulness or problems with organization, says Kris Stankiewicz, Psy.D., ABPP, licensed psychologist and certified school psychologist at the Center for Counseling & Personal Growth in Somerville.
It’s normal for girls (and boys) to experience some ADHD-like behaviors—the key is the degree. “Girls who may have ADHD exhibit a pattern of inattentiveness, which persists over time and negatively impacts their functioning in different contexts, as well as different areas of their lives, such as with school, work, self-sufficiency or with peers,” says Stankiewicz.
The Importance of a Diagnosis
If you think your daughter may be exhibiting ADHD symptoms, discuss your child’s early development, medical history, symptoms and behavior in detail with a psychiatrist, psychologist or pediatrician, says Stankiewicz. This conversation, combined with observations of your child and a review of school records, will help your healthcare professional reach a diagnosis and make treatment recommendations, most commonly a combination of behavioral therapy and medication (stimulants and nonstimulants).
Once she’s been diagnosed, by law she is eligible for all kinds of help and special services or accommodations at school, such as a distraction-free place to complete assignments and take tests, audio recordings or transcripts of class notes and a school counselor to assist with academic and behavioral challenges.
ADHD is important to address: Going untreated can lead to negative consequences outside the classroom, according to the American Psychological Association—Girls may be unable to meet academic and social expectations, which can result in feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. Additionally, girls with ADHD have higher rates of divorce later in life and are less likely be able to hold jobs, says Dr. Sherry Barron-Seabrook.
How You Can Help Her
• Know what’s going on in school. Parents who suspect ADHD issues need to be very aware of what’s happening in the classroom, and work together with the teacher to monitor and assess.
• Focus on strengths. “Go for the art classes, if that is what she is good at. Tap into her creative, out-of-the-box thinking, and find things that allow her to excel,” says Coppola.
• Help her keep organized. Your daughter needs extra assistance organizing and prioritizing her homework, says Jay Gordon, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Neuropsychology and Counseling Associates in Somerset. Writing her assignments down on a big homework calendar at home can help, says Gordon, and creates transparency so you can help her hit deadlines.
• Praise her when she does a good job. “Focus on positive behavior. Set clear rewards for homework completion,” says Gordon.
• Create a homework routine. Try less traditional tactics to help her focus, Stankiewicz says, like letting her move around when working on homework. Or use a cooking timer: “She can work for 10 minutes and then [take] a three-minute break alternating this until the work is complete,” he says. Or, if she’s working on a long worksheet, she can complete five problems at a time, take a break and come back for more.
• Establish consequences. “Set up realistic consequences for not completing the homework,” says Gordon.
Stacey Feintuch is a print and digital writer, whose work has appeared in various properties