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ADHD vs Autism in Girls- A Parent’s Perspective

If you’re a parent of a daughter with an invisible disability, you may be angry and frustrated, just like me. It can be incredibly hard to get teachers and medical professionals to take concerns of ADHD or autism seriously in girls, particularly if they are doing well in school or are on the higher functioning end.

This makes parenting girls with ADHD particularly unique. If you aren’t able to get information from your medical team (which you should keep trying for!), you may find yourself trying to figure out what ADHD vs autism in girls can look like.

ADHD vs autism isn't always clear cut. In girls, sometimes it's hard to tell if it's ADHD or autism. Learn more about decoding the difference in your daughter here.

ADHD Vs Autisim in Girls

Medical Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I’m just a mom of daughters with ADHD and autism.

Always, always speak with your daughter’s medical team to determine any applicable diagnosis.

I have done a lot of research on ADHD in girls, because I have ADHD and so far 2 out of 3 (but highly likely 3 out of 3) daughters of mine have ADHD. Still, everything I share is based in my own experience and that of my children.

I hope if you’re a parent of a daughter with ADHD or suspected ADHD, you’ll find this helpful, too!

behavior chart for adhd

Why Don’t Girls Get Diagnosed with ADHD?

Girls with ADHD go underdiagnosed because of diagnostic criteria that were based on while males only. The research is changing, but many girls still go undiagnosed until much later in life.

Compounding this issue even more is that the symptoms of ADHD and the symptoms of autism in girls overlap a lot when it comes to higher-functioning autism.

If you’re in the same boat, here’s a bit of what I’ve learned about ADHD vs autism in girls in my own parenting journey.

My Daughters’ Symptoms of ADHD in Girls

I am not a medical professional, and I am not a psychologist. These are the best sources for determining what the symptoms of ADHD are in girls. In my own family, these are the signs of ADHD in girls that my daughters showed.

I grew up in an ADHD family, and one of my sisters also has ADHD. Most of my brothers also have been diagnosed with ADHD or high-functioning autism. In my experience, this is what ADHD symptoms in girls vs boys looks like.

I’ve noticed that my daughters, especially as they get older, show signs of this hidden ADHD behavior in girls.

The Symptoms of Autism in Girls

autism or adhd girls

Autistic girls are are fascinating subject. Currently, autism is diagnosed in boys in a ratio of anywhere between 16 to 1 and 68 to 1. But, as the linked resource suggests, this ratio is far more likely to be 3 to 1 or 2 to 1 once gender differences are accounted for.

This means that for every girl diagnosed with autism, there are anywhere between 15 and 67 undiagnosed autistic girls out there who have to learn how to deal with their symptoms on their own.

You can read more about the symptoms of autism in girls here.

How ADHD and Autism Can Look the Same in Girls (in our family)

ADHD vs autism isn't always clear cut. In girls, sometimes it's hard to tell if it's ADHD or autism. Learn more about decoding the difference in your daughter here.

According to a 2010 study, up to 80% of children with an autism diagnosis will also qualify for an ADHD diagnosis. My daughters have these symptoms that are common in girls:

  • Hyperfocus
  • Difficulty reading social cues
  • Anxiety
  • Disorganization
  • Struggles understanding emotions
  • Social isolation
  • Tics and repetitive behavior
  • Obsessions
  • Interrupting
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Emotional outbursts

A study published in the journal Pediatrics in 2015 found that when children were first diagnosed with ADHD, they were often not given an autism diagnosis until much later in life, sometimes even as late as the teen years when social interactions become more difficult.

My girls all exhibit signs of ADHD and some signs of autism. So far, only one daughter has an “official” autism diagnosis.

My oldest daughter struggles the most with the disorganization, procrastination, and anxiety side of ADHD.

My middle daughter is 8, and as a preschooler, she had all of the classic signs of autism, including lining up toys, refusing to look at or smile at people, not playing with toys, not speaking until the age of 4, extreme meltdowns, rigid behaviors, sensory sensitivities, vocal tics, spinning stims, and more.

But now that she is 8, most people can hardly tell that she is autistic, as she has learned to mask very well. If we were not on high alert for her when she was a toddler, it’s likely that her autism would have been missed.

Today, she also has an ADHD diagnosis, but her most noticeable autism symptoms today include echolalia, hyperfocus, an intense need to set and follow rule structures, a love of organization, trouble with eye contact, and the inability to understand expressions of speech. She will also still have the occasional meltdown.

Her ADHD symptoms appear as distractibility, hyperfocus, interrupting, and a constant need to move.

My two-year-old is incredibly active and can’t sit still for more than 2 minutes at a time (if that). She also struggles with sleep disturbances and anxiety.

She’s currently under observation for autism due to a speech delay, lack of eye contact, repetitive behaviors, and poorly developed social skills. Because she’s a “quarantine baby,” she may outgrow some of the social issues and not actually be autistic.

What Can Parents Do about ADHD vs Autism in Girls?

Unfortunately, if you’re the parent of a daughter with ADHD or an autistic daughter, it’s going to be harder for you and her.

The only thing you can do is keep researching, keep track of your daughter’s symptoms, and bring them up with your daughter’s medical professionals.

behavior chart for girls

You can also request an evaluation by a psychologist (many psychologists work with ADHD and autism) and choose someone who has experience with girls with ADHD and autism.

Unfortunately, most of the research on girls with autism and ADHD is going on in Europe and Australia, so it’s harder to find a knowledgeable professional in the United States.

My Favorite Resources for Girls with ADHD

We love these toys for neurodivergent girls.

If your daughter is a fidgeter, she will need a collection of fidget toys that are classroom friendly to take to school!

My girls sometimes need help calming down. When emotions get high, we use a sensory ooze tube to help calm the air.

Girls with ADHD or autism may have trouble reading long books, so we love to use audiobooks so they can listen to amazing literature that would be taxing for them to read.

My girls really love using weighted blankets, it helps them stay calm and sleep better at night.

But, as parents, we can keep advocating for our girls and keep asking that they get the help they need to succeed.

Good luck out there, it’s intense!

More Resources for Girls with ADHD

Non-Distracting Fidget Bracelets for Girls with ADHD

How to Set Up an ADHD-Friendly Study Space for Girls

ADHD Tools that Help Girls Learn

Raising a Girl with ADHD

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Saturday 16th of July 2022

I'm sorry but do you think being able to mask well is a good thing?

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