by Cailin Jeffers
I was about 8 years old and just starting 3rd grade. I was excited for the new year; I enjoyed school and I was excited to learn about new mysterious things I had never heard of, like multiplication and chapter books without pictures. This year went different for me. Something changed but I couldn’t figure out what.
I couldn’t remember to put my name on tests. Like, ever. I was given detention every time I forgot to put my name on my paper, but no matter how hard I tried to remember to write it down, I just couldn’t. I would end up in detention for weeks on end. Eventually, I gave up and stopped trying to remember at all.
I was slow at everything I did, whether it was homework, tests, or class assignments. One day, I was put in the back room to work on my test where a repairman was working on a light fixture across the room. I couldn’t help but watch him fiddle with all the little parts and wires, all the interesting tools he had on his belt, all the metal and plastic bits that were scattered about the table he worked on. Pretty soon two hours passed and I didn’t write a thing. I was scolded by my teacher for “sitting around in La La Land.” I tried to tell her I was watching this repairman work on a light fixture, and I forgot I was working on a test, but of course she wouldn’t have it. “What, is the repairman going to teach you math? Seriously?”
Needless to say, I was frustrated. Why was I like this? Why was I so slow at everything? Why couldn’t I focus on anything? Why was I such an idiot?
I didn’t understand why I couldn’t focus, remember important things, or get my assignments done like all the other kids. It killed my confidence. I thought that I must be stupid and lazy, and everyone else was smarter than me.
My parents started to notice that there was something going on. They eventually took me to see a neurologist, where I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. I learned that I wasn’t just lazy, undisciplined, or stupid. It was something I was born with that I could learn to work around and treat.
The Difference in Girls
I was lucky enough to be diagnosed at a young age, but unfortunately, there are many people who aren’t. Because those with ADHD appear on the surface to be lazy, rowdy, undisciplined, or unwilling to try, it can be hard to differentiate between a kid who doesn’t want to put the effort into school and one with a condition that they don’t know how to navigate. In girls, it can be even harder.
ADHD presents itself in different ways for girls compared to boys. When most people think of ADHD, they picture a kid that’s constantly bouncing off the walls, but this isn’t entirely accurate. ADHD can include a range of hyperactive behavior: some are more physically hyper (inability to sit still, fidgeting), some are more verbally hyper (can’t stop talking, argues back often), and some don’t show hyperactivity at all (often called ADD). According to Mark J. Griffin, Ph. D., girls with ADHD have a much higher tendency to be either verbally hyper or have no hyperactivity, whereas boys with ADHD are more likely to be physically hyper. “Teachers might notice them being a little itchy or overly chatty, but girls are less likely than boys to be blurting things out in class or pushing or shoving the kid next to them.” This makes it harder to detect in girls because it doesn’t fit the common image of what ADHD looks like. Girls who are verbally hyper are just seen as “chatty” and girls without hyperactivity are just “space cadets”.
Without a diagnosis, these girls won’t be able to get the treatment or accommodations they need, as well as live with a damaged self-esteem. They’ll see themselves as lazy and stupid when they compare themselves to others. Before my diagnosis, I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to remember things, why I couldn’t focus, why I couldn't finish tasks on time, or if there was any way to fix it besides “try harder”. Had I not been diagnosed, it would have caused my self-esteem to keep spiraling downward.
Symptoms + How to Deal With It
Recognizing the symptoms of ADHD is the first step. The Mayo Clinic lists common symptoms as:
- Inability to focus on tasks
- Easily distracted
- Rambles/jumps around topics quickly when talking
- Difficulty processing information (misunderstanding or forgetting instructions, reading sentences over and over again)
- Impulsive behavior
If diagnosed with ADHD, here are some tips I’ve found have worked well:
- Use short steps instead of a long paragraph of instructions
- Ask to have verbal instructions written down
- Use a calendar, schedule everything, like homework due dates, study time, breaks (I prefer my phone calendar, but regular ones are great too)
- Invest in colorful stationary, like notebooks, sticky notes, pens, and highlighters. It’s easier to get organized when you get to use a bunch of fun colors!
- Use timers when working on tasks and take breaks. 30 minutes working, 10 minutes off. Repeat.
- Listening to piano or white noise helps with focusing
- Work somewhere quiet without distractions
- I am not ashamed to say I took medication. Talk to a parent and a doctor if this is what you think you need.
If you or your child show symptoms of ADHD, talk to a doctor about what your options are. It just might save their confidence.
“Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 Aug. 2017, www.mayoclin ic.org/diseases-conditions/adhd/symptoms-causes/syc-20350889.
Griffin, Mark J. Understood.org, www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/ types-of-issues/add-adhd/do-boys-and-girls-show-same-adhd-symptoms.
Cailin is a student at Northern Arizona University studying English. She hopes to become a publishing editor one day.