ADD in Teenage Girls

by Polaris Teen Center | Aug 23, 2018 | ADD, Parenting Tips, Resources

teen girl with add (adhd)

Symptoms of ADD in Teenage Girls

When we talk about attention-deficit issues in kids, images of boys being impatient, loud, or climbing on things often come to mind. Because attention-deficit disorders are frequently associated with boys, girls with undiagnosed ADHD often fly under the radar. This means many girls are not receiving the adequate treatment they need, and thus are suffering the long-term consequences of untreated attention-deficit problems.

What is ADD?

ADD, or attention-deficit disorder actually falls under the umbrella diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). ADD is a somewhat outdated term but is still used to refer to the inattentive type of ADHD, or Inattentive ADHD.

While there are some shared ADHD symptoms amongst males and females, there are many attention problems that uniquely manifest in adolescent and teenage girls, such as:

  • Appearing “spacey” or apathetic.
  • Poor reading comprehension. Although retaining facts from reading may not be a problem, many adolescent and teenage girls with ADHD struggle to connect the ideas within the reading material. This can also affect how well written instructions are followed.
  • Makes frequent, careless mistakes with poor attention to detail (can be most evident in terms of academic performance).
  • Struggles to stay organized.
  • Loses things easily.
  • Chronically late.
  • Excessive talking – in class, at home, etc.
  • Difficulty listening when spoken to due to limited attention span.
  • Easily distracted – things such as household chores and homework end up taking far longer than they should.
  • Frequently attempts to avoid, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained or long-term mental effort or focus.
  • Forgetful – forgetting necessary items (i.e. – lunch money, soccer shoes, etc.) or things related to daily schedule and/or activities.
  • Difficulty finishing tasks/assignments/activities.
  • Starts a lot of projects but struggles to finish them.
  • Doesn’t appear to learn or “do different”, even when consequences are enforced.
  • Significant mood swings.

Why ADD is Often Missed in Teenage Girls

The vast majority of teenage girls with ADD/ADHD are undiagnosed, or in many cases, misdiagnosed. This occurs for various reasons.

Teenage girls exhibit hyperactivity differently than teenage boys. While a teen boy may display symptoms of ADD by blurting out answers or constantly tapping his foot in a classroom, a teenage girl may demonstrate her ADD symptoms through incessantly talking.

Another reason ADD is often missed in teenage girls is that females tend toward the inattentive type of ADHD. Inattentive ADHD is associated with symptoms that tend to be less obvious and disruptive than those linked to the hyperactive type of ADHD.

Challenges of Teenage Girls with ADD

The teenage years are already a difficult period for girls, wrought with physical and hormonal changes. Yet, for teenage girls with ADD/ADHD, there are additional challenges that can make this period that much more difficult. These include:

  • Social pressures.
  • Low self-esteem – most women experience some level of self-doubt and low self-esteem during their adolescent and teenage years. Yet the specific challenges of teen girls with ADD tend to exacerbate these feelings. Some of the common pressures or expectations put on teenage girls directly conflict with the symptoms of ADD.
  • Maturity expectations – adolescence is a time when teens often experience growing pressure from parents and teachers to “mature.” Yet, this expectation towards maturity is a struggle for many teenage girls with ADD, as their neuro-cognitive patterns develop differently than the “typical” teenage girl.
  • Sexual concerns – studies show teenage girls with ADD are at a higher risk for pregnancy than their peers without ADD. This is attributed to a few reasons. Low self-esteem drives many to seek validation through sexual attention. This is a way many girls compensate for feeling inadequate in other areas of life.

Causes of ADD in Teenage Girls

There is no consensus in terms of what causes ADHD in teenage girls (or anyone for that matter). Nonetheless, research suggests ADD/ADHD is genetic, and that other factors may contribute to the development of attention problems as well.

  • Environment – certain studies have identified maternal behavior(s) when a child is in-utero may cause the development of attention problems. Some of these include cigarette smoking, alcohol use, and lead exposure.
  • Brain chemistry – ADD/ADHD is thought to, in some cases, be due to an imbalance of brain neurotransmitters.
  • Nutrition – recently, much of the research surrounding ADD/ADHD in children and teens has been centered on the immense amount of additives in the foods eaten today.

Treatment for ADD in Teenage Girls

There are many options when it comes to treating ADD/ADHD in adolescents and teenage girls. If you think your child may be suffering from attention problems, the first step is to have her assessed by a medical/mental health professional. Of course, the prevalence and severity of symptoms, psychological/medical history, and other factors may affect the course of treatment. Nonetheless, there are some common treatments for ADHD symptoms in girls.

  • Psychotherapy – teens with ADD/ADHD can benefit from psychotherapy by learning skills to decrease impulsivity and manage emotions. Psychotherapy can also target some problems associated with attention disorders, such as procrastination.
  • Medication – many mental health professionals believe therapy alone to be an effective treatment for ADD/ADHD in teenagers. Yet, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 80% of those who needed medication as children continue to need it in their adolescent and teenage years. Stimulant drugs are the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD.

How You Can Help Support Your Teen

  • Maintain realistic goals – there is no cure for ADD/ADHD. Thus, a realistic goal for your child is not to completely “recover” from her attention problems, but instead learn the strategies and skills to cope with and intervene on difficult symptoms.
  • Minimize guilt and fear – you did not choose for your child to have attention problems. It is not your (or anyone’s) fault.  You are not guilty of giving her ADD. Feeling guilty or shameful will only affect your well-being and in turn, your ability to support your child.
  • Let her know mistakes are OK – natural consequences are a healthy way of learning from mistakes. Allowing your teenager to make mistakes and be accountable for those mistakes can help her learn responsibility.
  • Pick your battles – know that everything is not necessarily worth fighting over. Be thoughtful about what you want to fight with your child about (“don’t sweat the small stuff.”)
  • Promote independence – encourage and support your teenager in managing life’s responsibilities and acting independently. She will gain more confidence and self-esteem this way.

If you have a child suffering with a severe case of attention deficit disorder, it’s important to find the right help quickly. Polaris Teen Center provides specialized, psychiatric treatment of ADD and ADHD for teens and adolescents. For more information on how we can help your family, or to schedule a tour of the facility, please contact our admissions department or call (844) 836-0222.

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Polaris Teen Center is a residential treatment facility for teens and adolescents suffering from severe mental health disorders. Our highly accredited facility is fully licensed and certified in Trauma Informed Care and is a part of the Behavioral Health Association of Providers (formerly AATA).