Is your Daughter a Daydreamer, Tomboy or "Chatty Kathy"?
By Kathleen G. Nadeau, Ph.D.
Most parents today have heard a great deal about Attention
Deficit Disorder. When they hear that term, it's likely that
a hyperactive little boy comes to mind. Boys with ADD (ADHD),
are easy to spot in the classroom, and are much more likely
to be referred for an evaluation. Most questionnaires used
to screen children for ADD (ADHD) emphasize items that describe
these boys, items about hyperactivity, impulsivity and defiant
behavior. Only those few girls who are like these boys with
ADD (ADHD) are sent for assessment. The ratio of children
referred to clinics for ADD (ADHD) evaluations continues to
be about four or five boys for each girl.
What we are beginning to realize is that there are many
girls left undiagnosed because their symptoms look different.
One big difference is that girls are less rebellious, less
defiant, generally less "difficult" than boys. Sadly,
they lose out due to their good behavior. It's the squeaky
wheel that gets oiled. When a boy is causing frequent discipline
problems, either at home or in the classroom, he will quickly
be referred for treatment. Parents and teachers alike want
quick relief from their constant challenges. Girls are more
compliant, and are not as easy to spot. Often they are left
to drift along from one school year to the next, never working
up to their potential. Girls with ADD (ADHD) are not all alike.
As we mentioned earlier, there are a few girls whose behavior
closely resembles the behavior of boys with ADD (ADHD). But
what about those who don't?
Hyperactive girls are often "tomboys." They are
physically active, drawn to more risk-taking activities such
as tree climbing, exploring and playing with their brothers
or other boys in the neighborhood. They may like soccer, swimming
or horseback riding, but are less attracted to more girlish
activities. But unlike many boys with ADD (ADHD), these girls
are often more cooperative at home, and may work harder to
please their teacher at school. Their handwriting may be messy,
they are often disorganized, and they may rush out the door
for their next activity leaving their room a huge mess. Rather
than suspecting ADD (ADHD), parents and teachers of these
girls may see them as undisciplined and just not academically
Girls of the inattentive variety are often shy daydreamers.
Their inattention in class may be overlooked because they
try hard not to draw attention to themselves. Many quiet girls
with ADD (ADHD) seem to be listening to their teachers, while
their minds are a thousand miles away. These girls often seem
anxious about school. They are forgetful and disorganized
in completing their school work and become very worried as
assignments come due. When sent to their room to complete
homework they may quietly daydream at their desk unless they
are kept on track by a parent sitting beside them. They may
seem easily overwhelmed and operate at a slower pace than
other girls. Some of these girls are anxious or depressed,
and are often mistakenly seen as less bright than they actually
A third type of girl with ADD (ADHD) is a combination of
hyperactive and inattentive. While they have a much higher
activity level than the daydreamers, they are not necessarily
"tomboys." Often these girls are hyper-talkative
rather than hyperactive. They are "silly", excitable
and overemotional. They chatter constantly in class and have
trouble staying quiet even when they are disciplined for talking.
They interrupt others frequently and jump from topic to topic
in conversation. These girls may have trouble explaining a
story line or movie plot - frequently interrupting themselves
to say "wait a minute, I forgot to tell you..."
Or they tell the story in a very confused manner because they
have trouble organizing their thoughts before they start talking.
These girls may be social leaders. They are active, talkative
and are exciting to be around. Their friendships may be more
dramatic, filled with overreactions and arguments. These girls
may adopt a "silly" personality to mask their disorganization
and forgetfulness. During their teen years these girls may
compensate for poor academics by becoming hyper-social and
taking risks such as smoking, drinking and becoming sexually
active at an early age.
Highly intelligent girls with ADD (ADHD) can be the most
difficult to spot. The brighter your daughter with ADD (ADHD)
is, the later her school problems tend to emerge. Many girls
with above average IQ can keep it together academically until
they hit middle school, or even high school. As their school
life becomes more demanding and complicated in the upper grades,
their problems with concentration, organization and follow-through
are more likely to reveal themselves.
Girls with undiagnosed ADD (ADHD) often pay the price of
being seen as ditzy, spacey or nonacademic. Due to internal
disorganization and distractibility many of these girls pick
up, but soon drop many hobbies and interests. Activities such
as learning to play a musical instrument, which require discipline
and perseverance, are rarely continued. Not only do they fall
behind academically, but they also come to think of themselves
as "quitters" with few talents. Parents and teachers
may dismiss these girls as undisciplined, and sadly, they
come to deny their own abilities. The social cost of undiagnosed
ADD (ADHD) is high as well. Studies show that social problems
begin as early as preschool and tend to become worse as girls
with untreated ADD (ADHD) go through elementary school into
their teen years. Having few friends or feeling left out takes
a toll on self-esteem that continues into adulthood.
A checklist if you think your daughter may have ADD (ADHD):
If you think that your daughter may possibly have ADHD,
you may want to refer to the two checklists contained in this
section of ADDvance.com, ADD
(ADHD) Checklist for Girls, and ADD
(ADHD) Self-report Questionnaire for Teenage Girls.
If you suspect that your daughter may have ADD (ADHD)...
Look carefully in your community for professionals who
have experience in diagnosing and treating girls.
CH.A.D.D. (Children and Adults with Attention
Deficit Disorder) is a national organization with local
chapters in many cities and towns across the country.
You can contact the CH.A.D.D. national office to find
the CH.A.D.D. chapter nearest you. (301-306-7070). Monthly
CH.A.D.D. meetings are free and are a good place to network
with other parents to find the best professionals in your
If you feel that your daughter is not working up to
her potential, or if she seems to fit some of the patterns
described here, trust your instincts and seek an evaluation.
Your daughter's teacher may disagree with an ADD (ADHD)
diagnosis because he or she is only trained to recognize
male-pattern ADD (ADHD) behaviors. Teacher education is
badly needed to help them recognize the different ADD
(ADHD) patterns seen in girls.
The sooner that your daughter is diagnosed, treated, supported
and encouraged the better off she will be. Make sure that
your daughter has a chance to develop her potential, to recognize
her talents, and to feel good about herself. We've let far
too many girls grow up, never taken seriously. Don't let your
daughter be one of them!
Help her to establish a "quiet zone" in her
Whether shy and withdrawn, or hyper and impulsive, girls
with AD/HD often feel emotionally overwhelmed. Help your daughter
to learn stress management techniques, and to understand that
she may need emotional "time out" to regroup after
Try to minimize corrections and criticism
Too often parents, with the best of intentions, shower ADD
(ADHD) girls with corrections and criticisms. "Don't
let them hurt your feelings like that.'" 'You'd forget
your head if it wasn't attached to your shoulders." "How
do you expect to go to college with grades like that?"
These girls, whether loud and rebellious, or shy and retiring,
typically suffer from low self-esteem. Of course, negative
behaviors need to be dealt with, but parents should be conscious
of balancing the negative with affection, encouragement and
time spent enjoyably together.
Make your home a "safety net" for your daughter.
Home is an important place to refuel, and to rebuild the
confidence that is so frequently eroded during the day at
school. Work to make your home a place where she feels supported
and understood, a place where she can talk about the challenges
of her day, a place where she can relax and unwind.
Help her look for ways to excel
Many girls with ADD (ADHD) feel that they are "not
good at anything." Their distractibility, impulsivity
and disorganization often results in mediocre grades. Likewise,
they often don't have the stick-to-itiveness to develop skills
and talents like many of their friends.
Help your daughter identify a skill or ability. Praise and
recognition for developing skills can give a girl with ADD
(ADHD) a terrific, positive boost. Finding an activity to
feel good about is often a positive turning point in the life
of a teenage girl with AD/HD.
Resources for girls with ADD (ADHD) and their parents:
Girls with AD/HD by Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D., Ellen Littman,
Ph.D., and Patricia Quinn, M.D.
of Phoebe Flower by Barbara Roberts. A charming series
for kids ages 8-10 featuring Phoebe, a delightful, spunky
girl with ADD (ADHD). This series presents ADD (ADHD) in a
positive, but realistic manner. Phoebe will provide a great
role model for your daughter as she learns about her ADD (ADHD).