Autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are cognitive disorders that may appear to share similar traits at first, but upon closer assessment, demonstrate distinct characteristics. The symptoms also appear to affect genders in different ways as girls may not display signs of either disorder in the same way as boys.
The signs of autism in girls include:
- Restricted, passionate, and specific interests
- Abnormal sensitivity to sensory challenges
- Conversations are limited to specific topics of interest
- Difficulty controlling emotions when frustrated
- Displays of depression, anxiety, and moodiness
- Difficulty making or keeping friends
- May experience epileptic seizures
- Often described as passive, quiet, or shy
- Difficulties with social communication worsen with age
- Rely heavily on others (e.g., children) to guide or speak on their behalf
If these symptoms are subtle, a girl who has autism is more likely to be underdiagnosed.
Symptoms of ADHD that may be present in girls are as follows:
- Appears to be withdrawn
- Cries and gets upset easily
- Constant daydreaming
- Appears to be unmotivated
- Displays poor time management
- Messy and disorganized (e.g., appearance or personal space)
- Compensates for inattention by hyper-focusing on specific interests
These symptoms are typically accompanied by the classic signs of ADHD that include hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattentiveness.
The dramatic differences in symptoms between boys and girls may cause autism or ADHD to go undiagnosed in girls, especially those with high-functioning autism. Therefore, caregivers must advocate for girls who they believe are demonstrating behaviors that may indicate the presence of either disorder. A proper diagnosis puts children on the path to progress.
- Biederman J, Monuteaux MC, Mick E, et al. Psychopathology in females with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a controlled, five-year prospective study. Biol Psychiatry. 2006;60(10):1098-1105.
- Clinical correlates of ADHD in females: findings from a large group of girls ascertained from pediatric and psychiatric referral sources. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1999;38(8):966-975.
- Biederman J, Petty CR, O’Connor KB, Hyder LL, Faraone SV. Predictors of persistence in girls with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: results from an 11-year controlled follow-up study. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2012;125(2):147-156.
- Biederman J, Faraone SV, Mick E, et al. Clinical correlates of ADHD in females: findings from a large group of girls ascertained from pediatric and psychiatric referral sources. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1999;38(8):966-975.