Supporting girls and young women with ADHD
ADHD is diagnosed six times more often among males than females. Although hyperactive and impulsive behaviour isn’t unheard of among girls with ADHD, most seem to have the ‘inattentive’ type, which means they struggle to concentrate, and then… quietly... fall behind.
Well under a teacher’s radar, ADHD among girls is often referred to as a ‘hidden disorder’. With less obvious symptoms which most will instinctively try to mask, girls get a diagnosis, on average, 10 years later than boys.
This has huge impacts. Unnoticed and unsupported, ADHD girls commonly battle low self-esteem, depression or anxiety, leading to higher rates of self-harm, substance abuse, and suicide attempts.
So how can educators and parents help?
Here are some classic ADHD challenges, and a range of solutions from creative thinking to life-changing tech.
Challenge: Sensory overload
The ADHD student can be overwhelmed by too much stimulus and distraction when she needs to concentrate.
At home: A quiet study space with neutral colours, gentle lighting, and a plain wall behind the screen, calms a racing mind.
In educational settings: Seat a student close to the teacher, with a discreet card to turn over to signal she needs help. Girls with ADHD will often not ask for support, especially if it risks drawing attention to them in class. Teachers should check in.
With tech: Noise cancelling headphones which connect a student to an audio source directly from the teacher can help with focus. Unobtrusive digital pens can record lectures, allowing her to replay any parts missed while zoned out.
Challenge: Time blindness
The ADHD student loses track of time. Being frequently late is highly stressful, adding to her feelings of embarrassment and self-consciousness.
At home: Large week-in-view wall charts with coloured stickers for different types of events are easy to follow. Classic analogue clocks make more sense than digital. Making a packed lunch and laying out clothes and shoes the night before will help her get out on time in the morning.
In educational settings: Low-key teacher time checks will help her keep pace. Avoiding publicly discussing lateness will ease anxiety and low self-esteem – remember self-esteem is already lower in ADHD girls than in ADHD boys.
With tech: Digital time management apps help ADHD students to manage their to-do list, often integrating with calendars on laptops, tablets and smartphones, offering options to share with parents or teachers. Smart watches deliver discreet sensory prompts and clear time-counting visuals.
Challenge: Staying on task
The ADHD student needs to sit still and read, but this can be her worst nightmare.
At home: The calm study space helps, as will short stints of focus, punctuated with timed breaks and rewards; stickers on charts, snacks, or five minutes with friends on social media.
In educational settings: While sensory overload solutions (above) help, also incentivise ADHD students with short, fun quizzes at the end of chapters or tasks. Time out to stretch and move is good. Extra time should be allowed for tests among ADHD students. Remember, girls are less likely to ask for it.
With tech: Audio-assisted reading can aid focus. Audio accompanies the text and words are highlighted in tandem with it, guiding the eye. Digital reading pens also highlight words and offer a definition or pronunciation.
Challenge: Maths is overwhelming
Mathematics = sustained focus. Research suggests maths is particularly challenging for ADHD students. Studies also show that while girls compete well with boys in maths exams, they tend to struggle more than boys with complex computations: a double-whammy for an ADHD student who’s also female.
At home: Bring maths into everyday life, through pocket money budgeting; DIY jobs with measurements; games that involve adding up, like Scrabble. Avoid stating any personal dislike for maths.
At school: Along with extra time and brain-calming measures, teachers can employ quizzes to increase engagement. ADHD students often focus better with a problem-solving narrative. They are instinctively creative problem-solvers.
With tech: Gamification of maths is changing the face of learning – especially for those with ADHD. Some apps connect two students of similar ability to compete in dynamic real-time tests, which may add an enjoyable social element, without putting girls under even more pressure to perform. Others have a pleasing physical element – shaking or tilting a tablet to trigger movement of numbers.
While ADHD in girls and young women is gaining more recognition, there is still a significant resource gap for students today. By fostering understanding within families, encouraging peer and mentor involvement, and implementing supportive school environments, young women with ADHD adapt and thrive, building skills and confidence – inside and outside of school.
At Bett, we’re building a better education for every student – from all backgrounds, of all abilities, anywhere they are. Hear from experts, learn from peers and discover innovations to support your students at bettshow.com.