Does ADHD Manifest Differently in Boys and Girls?

Several years ago, the question was asked whether ADHD looks different in boys than it does in girls. I was curious to know more about that subject and began searching for an expert who could answer the question. I found Dr. Patricia Quinn, a developmental pediatrician and medical doctor specializing in child development and the treatment of ADHD. Dr. Quinn gave me some eye-opening insight on the subject and agreed to a brief interview on Attention Talk Video.

According to Dr. Quinn, boys are usually diagnosed with ADHD more often than girls simply because of the way ADHD manifests. The reason is that, although the symptoms may be the same in boys and girls, the boys seem to push through with outward behaviors whereas girls may try to cover up the symptoms by internalizing them, sometimes even developing anxiety, depression, or compulsive behaviors.

Watch our video to learn more.

Video Transcript:

Jeff Copper:       Welcome everybody to this edition of Attention Talk Video. I’m your host, Attention Coach Jeff Copper, and I’m here today with Dr. Patricia Quinn. Dr. Quinn, welcome to the show.

Dr. Quinn:           Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

Jeff Copper:       I’ve got a burning question. Does ADHD manifest different between boys and girls?

Dr. Quinn:           Well, the symptoms are the same, obviously, it has to be attention deficit disorder, so they have problems with attention, concentration, and focus, but what we see is that those symptoms might look different in a girl or a boy. For example, a girl might be hyper talkative rather than hyperactive or she might be hyperreactive. We also might see that the girl internalizes her symptoms so that as a result she might have more anxiety or self-esteem issues or be more depressed because she’s seeing these symptoms, they’ve gotten her in trouble, she hasn’t been able to bring in a project that she needed because she forgot, so she really analyzes them.

Dr. Quinn:           And for boys we see that it’s more their behaviors affecting others. It’s more outward externalized behaviors so that we see more of the hyper activity. We see more of the impulsivity in the boys. That changes in adolescence a little bit, but we see a great increase in girls with the anxiety and depression.

Jeff Copper:       That’s quite a difference.

Dr. Quinn:           In adolescence, yes.

Jeff Copper:       Which is interesting because the way you’ve described it makes a little bit of sense why boys have been diagnosed a little bit more than girls just because of the way it manifests, is that making sense?

Dr. Quinn:           Absolutely, and the girls tend to work very hard to cover up their ADHD symptoms. They don’t want anyone to know, so they stay in the closet longer really. And what happens is with a girl with ADHD, what we find is that she will develop almost obsessive compulsive personality traits. She will line things up, she will work harder, she will rewrite her notes, she’ll re-copy. She does a lot of these things so that people won’t notice, that people won’t know, to her own detriment. She then doesn’t get diagnosed because no one’s looking, that she brings in expert work to school, she’s recopied at three times, stayed up till two o’clock in the morning. Teacher sees the product, gee, this looks good. She did all her homework, it looks great. And yet, they don’t see how she was playing with this and doing this. And she’d had trouble getting started and it was all erasers and holes the first time. And her product looks good. So the teacher doesn’t send her in.

Dr. Quinn:           And that’s what I say is always should be a takeaway with girls with ADHD that satisfactory academic performance early on for girls does not rule out ADHD. The boys missing 59 math assignments. He gets a D in math, the girl gets an A because she stayed up with her mother, worked with her mother, worked with a neighbor, work with another girlfriend, whatever. And she hands in our work. It’s not that it was easy for her to do it. As a result of how hard they had to work, they equate that with not being smart. You talk to these girls with ADHD or the women with ADHD and you’ll say to them, yeah, but I always knew I was as smart as everybody else.

Jeff Copper:       Oh wow.

Dr. Quinn:           So very early on, what you see happening is all this work is translating into, it’s easy for you and it’s hard for me, therefore you’re smarter than I am.

Jeff Copper:       Wow. Well, quite a difference. Dr. Quinn, thank you so much for coming on the show and answering the question because it’s been fascinating to me. To me, I learned a lot and for our viewers out there, just know that, watch the difference, it’s there. So thank you very much.

Dr. Quinn:           Thank you.


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