“Q: The Social Strain of ADHD Weighs Heavy on My Daughter”
“Shame is a huge struggle for girls with ADHD. They’re ashamed of their difficulties, and they’re overwhelmed by the frustration or fear about possible negative outcomes. Some girls with ADHD will do anything to avoid disappointing friends and family. Here’s how you can help.”
Q: “The pandemic has really taken a toll on my daughter with ADHD. She has lost confidence and focus with her schoolwork and she is struggling to maintain social connections. How can I better understand what she’s going through and support her?”
ADHD in Girls Explained
ADHD in girls is often missed or overlooked. In fact, three boys are diagnosed with ADHD for every one girl.1 This is largely because the signs of ADHD tend to look different in girls: daydreaming in class, silliness or spaciness, shyness, skin picking, perfectionism, feeling anxious or sad, forgetfulness, emotional dysregulation, and sometimes trouble keeping friends.
Girls show more signs of anxiety and mood disorders than do boys, and girls are often diagnosed at a later age than their male counterparts. They also experience higher levels of peer rejection. This is partially because women are socialized to define themselves through their relationships with others, whereas boys are socialized to define themselves through their accomplishments or athletic prowess.
When girls with ADHD miss cues and struggle socially, they experience a delay in their ability to make and maintain friends. They want to connect, but they frequently don’t know how. They may struggle with forgetfulness and difficulty listening, but their challenges with verbal expression and control can particularly hinder interpersonal relationships. Since girls relate to peers primarily through verbal connections, these challenges can leave them with fewer friendships. While some girls with ADHD are very socially oriented, many are more likely to be disliked than are girls without the disorder.
More often than not, girls with ADHD suffer silently and show fewer outward symptoms of their struggles. Teachers and parents may miss their ADHD because the girls are flying under the radar and are not drawing attention to themselves.
Shame is a huge struggle for girls with ADHD. They’re ashamed of their difficulties, and they’re overwhelmed by frustration and fear possible negative outcomes at school, home, etc. Disappointment is tough for them to tolerate and some girls with ADHD will do anything to avoid letting friends and family down.
ADHD in Girls: Support and Strategies
As parents, educators, clinicians and coaches, one of the most important things that we have to do is identify and normalize the challenges faced by girls with ADHD. That’s why getting an accurate assessment is so important. We want to help girls understand the brains they have and accept both strengths and challenges so they can advocate for themselves. Clarifying their executive functioning ages can be very useful in this process. Your daughter might be 12 in some areas but act more like she is 9 in others.
Investigate and set up appropriate levels of support. It’s hard for girls to ask for help so avoid their tendencies to hide what’s going on by creating opportunities for interventions that address their struggles.
Social Lives of Girls with ADHD
Because their tendency for rejection sensitive dysphoria is very high, girls with ADHD tend to suffer from low self-esteem. They take things personally and recover more slowly from hurtful interactions. As such, they are at a higher risk for eating disorders and self-harming behaviors. Pay attention to warning signs, such as isolation, shyness, and relentless perfectionism.
Help your daughter, student, or client learn how to focus on and identify social cues and repair basic responses. So much of self-esteem for girls and women with ADHD is tied to social relationships. Practice what to say and how to say it with her. For example, if you don’t understand someone’s instructions and you need them to repeat them, what are you going to say? How close do you stand to someone? How do you ask questions? How long do you wait for responses? These are all basic aspects of interactional skills that we want to teach our girls.
Teach your child or teen that there are different types of friendships. There are acquaintances, friends, and best friends. What does a friend look like? What does a friend do? An acquaintance? This will help her maneuver in social circles more easily.
Many girls want to be friends with the popular kids, but those popular kids aren’t nice to them. We have to teach girls that someone is not their friend if they make them feel bad about themselves and less than who they are. This is very difficult to communicate to girls, because they may not want to hear what adults, especially their mothers, have to say.
Manage your own frustrations and show up for girls with compassion, kindness, and understanding. Many parents of children with ADHD have also experienced or lived with ADHD, so you can understand some of the difficulties your daughters may be having accepting it, maintaining perspective and reducing shame about it. We all have unique brains: assist the girls in your life to embrace theirs!
ADHD in Girls: Next Steps
- ADHD in Girls: Why It’s Ignored, Why That’s Dangerous
- Watch: Girls with ADHD Are Slipping Through the Cracks
- Learn: Why ADHD in Girls Is Often Overlooked or Misdiagnosed
1 Data and Statistics About ADHD. CDC (Nov. 2020) doi:10.1177/1087054721997555
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