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What Does Female ADHD Look Like?

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

When people envision a child with ADHD they tend to think of a child who can’t sit still, blurts out answers, and tends to act without thinking. When the symptom criteria for ADHD was created, it is almost guaranteed that it was written by men, for men (boys). As it turns out, females also have ADHD, it just looks quite a bit different. Here is a quick cheat sheet for what a female with ADHD might look like, or have a history of. Of course, every individual’s presentation looks different, and that is where the skill in evaluations lies.
  • Unlikely to have behavior problems in elementary school.

  • May exhibit daydreaming or spaciness, but teachers tend to not be concerned.

  • One conversation or story tends to derail when new threads pop into their mind.

  • Fidgeting is more discrete: tapping feet, doodling, twirling hair…

  • May struggle to complete tests or may finish tests early but fail to notice details to the questions resulting in lower scores.

  • Tend to struggle with organization, time-management, and procrastination.

  • Losing your train of thought in the middle of a conversation if interrupted.

  • Interrupting others so you won’t forget the thought you wanted to add.

  • Taking longer to complete assignments.

  • Needing to study harder than peers (not related to ability level.)

  • Difficulty learning from verbal instructions only.

  • May have self-esteem problems as they feel they should be able to perform better.

  • Tend to work best with some type of noise in the background.

  • Forgetfulness.

  • Tends to work well under pressure and when in a competitive environment.

  • Tend to keep themselves very busy in grade school to manage the excess energy.

When I evaluate females for ADHD in my office, I tend to see a pattern present in both the interview and the intelligence testing. The interview tends to go all over the place, with one thought leading to another. I’m usually bouncing back and forth between my interview pages and making notes on the side. Some of this is due to my ADHD and stream of thought as well!

During the intelligence testing, there tends to be average to above average general knowledge with vocabulary and spatial activities, with difficulties with the efficiency with which they can transfer this knowledge into output via speed and memory. When I explain their intelligence profile I tend to get a lot of “a ha” moments.

I often use a computer analogy to describe these difficulties. The verbal and spatial knowledge can be considered like a download to your computer. The information is all there, waiting to be accessed. The problem tends to come, for a female with ADHD, in the accessing. You can consider this like you would RAM for a computer (RAM gives applications a place to store and access data on a short-term basis. It stores the information your computer is actively using so that it can be accessed quickly.) Some of you might remember the days of dial-up internet, with the three dots processing across the screen. The time that it took to connect was seemingly endless.

When people learn how their brain works, they feel better knowing there is nothing “wrong” with them. It’s just that their server might process information a little differently. That’s where I give tips and tricks for how to hack the system to use it as our super power. Women with ADHD are a force to be reckoned with once they understand how they work. I especially love the ability to hyper-focus on a task (when needed) and the extra levels of creativity that tend to be present.



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