Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Toilet Seat
The Greatest Thrift of All

Like a Girl

I can't count the number of times I've heard (or read) someone point out the fact that "ADHD presents very differently in girls vs. boys." And I would nod in perfect agreement, because yes! I have heard (or read) that many times! 

But if you'd asked me just how, exactly, ADHD presents in girls, I'd have absolutely no idea.

"Differently," I'd probably answer in a serious and authoritative tone, because I love to bullshit my way through questions. "ADHD presents differently in girls."

I mean, not shocking, as I do not have a daughter and certainly never struggled with ADHD as a child myself.

Until I learned that actually, I probably did.

(Struggle with ADHD as a child, that is. I did not discover the existence of a long-lost daughter I forgot I gave birth to. Just wanna make that clear,) 

Still maybe not all that shocking! I only learned the specifics of how ADHD presents in adults like, last month! And only went to my doctor two weeks ago like, uhhhh I think this is me? And I was right and it totally was me and now I'm finally medicating the right part of my brain for the first time in my freaking life and oh my God, I get it now. I get how all you other adults manage to adult so well without plummeting ass-backwards into a self-inflicted crisis every few months. (Or weeks. Or days!) 


So I figured "how ADHD presents in girls" was probably worth a Google now. 

The following behaviors may indicate ADHD in girls:

  • talking all the time, even when parents or teachers ask them to stop

The first time I ever got in trouble at school was in kindergarten, because I could not keep myself from talking to the other kids while we were seated on the carpet for story time or a lesson or whatever. Usually because we'd started a conversation before we were seated on the carpet and I vividly remember the twitchy agony of that unfinished conversation. Surely, if I just barely whispered what I had left to say, I could make the twitch go away and then I could be quiet and pay attention like a good girl. 

  • frequent crying, even from small disappointments

I also vividly remember the scolding I got from my kindergarten teacher (who I loved and adored and wanted nothing more in life than to please) and getting moved to the opposite side of the carpet from my best friend. And how I cried. And how embarrassed I was that I was crying, which made me cry even harder, and then I made eye contact with my best friend (who was NOT CRYING) and panicked. Why wasn't she crying? Did she not care? Were we not friends anymore? The twitch came back.

"Are you still my best friend?" I silently mouthed to her.

She nodded. I nodded back and turned my attention back to my teacher in relief.

I hadn't noticed she'd stopped reading and was staring right at me. So was everybody else.

She told my mom about it. My mom gave me a look. I burst into tears all over again. 

Later in elementary school, it was common knowledge that Amy cried over everything, so be super careful about what you say to her. In middle school, Amy was known as kind of a Drama Queen.

In high school, Amy was just...ugh, she's so exhausting, yanno? 

  • constantly interrupting conversations or activities that include their friends


Another article I came across mentioned girls blurting out inappropriate things without thinking. For me, this definitely manifested as a million pointless, inane white lies. I'd say I listened to bands I'd never heard of, that I liked TV shows and movies I'd never seen, or that I I got my skirt at The Gap when it obviously came from Marshall's. I'd claim to have read some random article or news story somewhere to either support or oppose someone's argument or opinion when I had no idea what I was talking about. Lies that fell apart completely after any sort of follow-up questioning, and I'd be left struggling to double-down on the lie or somehow convince my friends that they'd all misheard or misunderstood me in the first place. 

I hated that I did this. Just...hated it. I knew it was stupid and wrong and annoying. But then I'd get caught up in a conversation (or worse, overhear someone else's conversation) and damn it, why in the world did I just say that I've been to Europe? I've never even been to Canada.

  • trouble paying attention
  • frequent daydreaming

These two sort of go hand in hand, I suppose. As a child I constructed an elaborate fantasy world in which I was a famous child actress. The MOST famous child actress. And whenever I was bored -- at school, in church, at the grocery store with my mom -- I would disappear into that world and view whatever was happening to me through the lens of my "character." My classmates became my adoring co-stars getting tutored on set; the shoppers at the grocery store were starstruck fans. It was deep and detailed and I would be 100% mentally immersed in it and 100% checked out from anything actually going on around me.

(This "daydream" was also how I coped with an inability to fall asleep at night, and I'd spend hours in bed conjuring up my latest movie or conducting a TV interview or designing the mansion I lived in.)

I remember, at some point in my teens, realizing that the long-running Amy Corbett Show in my head was...pretty silly and childish. That I shouldn't still be pretending that the reason I didn't have many friends at school was because school was just part of my latest movie, in which I played a social outcast in a teenage romcom who was totally going to Win Everyone Over in the end.

But then I'd start walking down the hallway to math class and like, oh man, perfect time for an imaginary slow-mo walk scene set to whatever song was stuck in my head that day. 

I read a Dear Abby or Ann Landers column in which someone -- an adult, I presumed -- confessed to doing something eerily similar to cope with boredom. Abby or Ann said it sounded like the letter writer just needed more outlets for her obviously deep wells of creativity and imagination and suggested checking out a local theater or creative writing group.

I was already doing theater and creative writing, so I didn't really know what to make of my own situation.

  • having a messy bedroom, desk, or backpack

Ugh, yes. I would go on organizing tears (I now recognize this as "hyperfocus") and clean my room, my desk, or my locker. I'd get everything perfectly, immaculately clean and organized. I'd promise myself that this time would be different, and I'd keep everything tidy. But then the clutter blinders would come back, I'd wander away from something without cleaning it up, I'd be in a rush because I had terrible time management skills, and...yep.

This is still my life, if we're being honest.

  • difficulty finishing assigned work

This is one that -- if my parents and teachers were filling out a rating scale -- would likely solidly mark this one off as "Nope, never." I did well at school! I never missed an assignment or failed to turn in a project on time!

But like my secret little daydream world, I managed my schoolwork via a series of elaborate yet rickety coping methods. I decided I simply "worked best under a deadline" and did everything at the last minute.

And I mean the. Last. Minute. That's when -- and only when -- I could magically turn on the "hyperfocus" like a superpower. Failure (OH GOD NOT FAILURE! MY PERFECTIONISM, IT BURRRRRNS!) was not an option. So completing a 10-page essay or a project I was assigned a month before in a single evening was just what had to be done.

I was a natural speed reader, which helped. As did a series of minor yet chronic health problems -- ear infections, kidney issues, mono, migraines, etc. -- that I could occasionally yet conveniently complain about to either 1) stay home and buy myself another day or 2) get myself sent home from school before it was time to turn in whatever thing I'd completely forgotten to do and remembered in a cold dead panic during morning announcements. 

Girls may also be affected by ADHD if they experience:

  • depression
  • stress
  • anxiety
  • low self-esteem

Well. Duh.

There are a lot of variations on this symptom list, but the gist is the same. Before I read them, I would've sworn up and down that I never exhibited anything close to "hyperactivity" in a physical sense -- I wasn't really good at sports, although now I'm remembering multiple times a ball or stick whacked my face out of nowhere because I wasn't paying attention. But after reading them, oh. Yeah. I bit my nails, I'd braid my hair over and over, fidget endlessly with my jewelry, and doodle all over my notes.

And yet nothing I've described in this post so far was any sort of terrible, how could nobody have noticed sort of thing. I liked school and made the honor roll. I did band and chorus and drama and at least gave a couple sports a try, I had friends and boyfriends, and the usual amount of drama that goes with both. I went to church and youth group and I stayed out of trouble. What problem even is there to solve? 

Plus I had not-terrible-sounding excuses for a lot of those other symptoms.

I talked a lot because I was smart. I daydreamed all the time because I was creative. I cried over everything because I was sensitive. I did things at the last minute because I was efficient. 

And I can now look back and start to unpack where and when, exactly, the wheels started to come off and my scaffolding began to collapse. When the anxiety crept in and social issues cropped up and my self-confidence took a nose dive. And also when I stopped labeling the symptoms in nice ways. 

I interrupt people all the time because I am annoying and self-centered. My daydreams are childish and pathetic. Grow up, Amy. (And stop crying over every stupid little thing while you're at it.) My house gets messy and  disorganized because I am messy and disorganized. I wait until the last minute to do things because I am lazy. I don't don't know where to start on this work project because I am bad at this work. I never wrote a book because I tried and I never got past the first chapter and that's because I am a disappointment who never lived up to her potential. 

(Why, it's almost as if having all that negative self-talk bouncing around your brain 24/7 might cause a little bit of anxiety! Or an eventual collapse into major depression!)

I went out for dinner and a movie with a friend the other night. (No one in my house wanted to see Little Women with me!  Unbelievable!) After we sat down in the restaurant I felt strangely overwhelmed by everything. I was talking and I could sense that I was talking kind of fast -- to be fair, it'd been ages since we'd hung out in person and were both kind of overflowing with STORIES and INFORMATION and UPDATES -- but suddenly I felt like the words were just...skipping over my brain and going straight out of my mouth?  And inside my head there was like...a completely different and separate topic of conversation going on?

And I needed to decide what to eat but the menu had too many pages and sections and pictures and that's when it occurred to me that the Vyvanse had worn off. 

"I'm sorry," I laughed. "I cannot deal with this menu right now." 

I closed the menu and decided the salad bar looked pretty good. We had a great time talking (veryfastbutthat'sokayitworksforus) about anything and everything, and the movie was wonderful. 

I cried, of course. But hey, it's Little Women! And I'm actually really sensitive!




Thank you for sharing (more). Some of those symptoms sound familiar, both for myself and my daughter. But not all, maybe not even most. I have a niece who is a major daydreamer, diagnosed with ADHD. She's still a little out there even on the meds, but OMG, so mega creative and talented! I hope the world is ready for her amazingness, but I also worry about when she learns to drive. I'm rambling, but I just wanted to say thanks. Continue the good fight!

Katie H.

I feel like this diagnosis is a blessing for you! I hope that doesn't sound weird. All those things you didn't like about yourself were just "overplayed strengths", as my sister calls it. And now that you have help, I know you will find a way to use them to really find a life that speaks to all your unique and wonderful attributes. Hang in there!


Ok, I am bookmarking this post to refer to weekly as my almost 10 yr old daughter gets older. She checks off so many of these things! And yet...there's no problem? How do I know when it's a problem, and her scaffolding is starting to collapse? We did the parent/teacher survey thing to evaluate her for ADHD about a year ago, and she came back "borderline." But then, we moved out of NYC and her overcrowded classroom and no access to nature, and literally all of her trouble in school melted away. But she still bites her nails, and fidgets terribly, is so damn messy and sooo sensitive.

Amy (and gentle readers diagnosed with ADHD as an adult) - what do you wish your parents had done differently? Or wish you had understood about yourself earlier? IF there's no obvious problem, do I still pursue it? What if she's actually fine, and I've pointed out to her that I think there's something wrong with her (there's not! she's wonderful!)?

Kathy W.

I have dealt with much of that but with the added bonus of a parent who didn't hold back with the "you're lazy" and "you don't try hard enough" or "you spend too much time reading" or " you're always late with your homework, you don't care about it" commentary. I didn't even need my own inner dialogue dragging me down.

But I'm old (pushing 60 harder than I'd like to admit) and I know my parent loved me dearly and though the negative commentary was motivating. It was not.

I'm glad you're bringing this to light for other women who've experienced this, and moreso, for parents of daughters who might be showing the symtoms.


Nicole, my 10 year old daughter is inattentive. And she is doing absolutely fine. What I am planning is to medicate her if and when she needs it and take her to a therapist or ADHD coach when she hits middle school so she can have better scaffolding in place to support herself. And if I ever feel like things are getting away from her even when she is an adult I will mention to her that this is something she might want to look into.


Nicole, I was kind of where you are eleven years ago with my daughter, except that we did not do any kind of evaluation. She was coping just fine, and did well in school. She had plenty of friends and was doing well socially. Then, things got tougher for her in middle school--socially and academically. She was still mostly fine, it seemed. I just told myself that it was middle school growing pains, of the common variety. Her grades were still good. She still had a group of good friends. And she continued to do well academically in high school, though she struggled a little with friendships. Nothing alarming, she just seemed to have a hard time finding her "people" after a close friend who was the glue for their group moved out of state. She was still fine.
Things got a bit more difficult in college, especially socially. Her freshman year was a roller coaster of ups and downs and awesome friends turning into horribly toxic frenemies. But she regrouped and was doing okay until this past semester--her 4th year in college. She just seemed to fall apart. Coping skills out the window, anxiety ramping up. She ended up with good grades, but she was calling me or her dad almost daily, in tears, in a complete panic about...I can't even remember what. She swore that it was just stress from an extra demanding semester, and she'd be fine after the break. And it started up again last week. I put my foot down and insisted that she bring up the possibility of ADHD with her therapist. She did, yesterday. But her therapist is not a psychologist, so she can't diagnose her or prescribe anything. Ugh. But at least the conversation has started, and she can get a referral.
All of this is an exhaustingly long way for me to say this: your daughter sounds like she's coping just fine, for now. But, since you know that she's borderline, I would keep a very close eye out for any signs that the scaffolding (as Amy perfectly describes it) is starting to crumble. I wish I had pursued it more when my daughter was younger. It could have prevented both of us a lot of stress and turmoil.

Nicole Parker

Stephanie - it's like death by a thousand cuts. Thanks for the perspective! I think I'm more likely to pull the trigger and pursue a diagnosis as she moves into jr high...though it's so hard to distinguish what's normal and what's a problem, because jr high sucks for everyone!


@nicole Things started to seriously collapse for me in college, once my night-before last-minute strategy simply wasn't realistically possible for my workload. I still got good grades but only because I would drop classes I was underperforming in, even past the point when I could get a refund for them. (I was paying my own way through with loans so wheeeee imaginary money and debt! Better than bringing a bad grade home though!)

I feel like that would have been the ideal time for medication, although the social stuff hit hard much earlier. But of course, there were a bajillion other reasons/excuses for my problems so ADHD was never on the radar. It IS on your daughter's radar (and yours)! THAT'S FANTASTIC.

You're doing awesome. Please email me if you want to talk more.


My daughter is in 8th grade and we just got the official dx, though it’s always been on our radar. Something clicked with me when she was about 4 and didn’t want to wear pants (she had some sensory issues we did know about and preferred elastic waist bands), I made her try some hand he didn’t jeans for weather purposes. The child had an all out anxiety attack because she said she couldn’t breath in the jeans. Which were too big, btw...
at that moment I realized she wasn’t wired the same as my other 2 girls. I looks back on the constant redirection for simple tasks, being hyper focused on things and it all fell into place. I actually began to parent get different.
But we held off for school purposes, wanted to see what coping mechanisms she did have. She did great until about 3rd grade, but we worked with the school and things were ok. We always kept an open dialog about focusing and the way she thinks being different but so so cool.
She hit 7th grade though and care to us saying she was frustrated in language arts because it took her so long to read because she had to read the same pages over and over. We talked to her teachers, she was doing great academically but she was struggling internally.
Constant fidgeting, doodling on papers whenever the teacher is talking, she stopped talking up in class because she was afraid she wouldn’t have the correct answer or worse it would take her so long to make a point that the other kids would laugh. (They never did).
We did the scoring, got in with a psychiatrist easy and walked out that day with a dx.
I will say we have a script for vyvanvse but she doesn’t want to take it, it’s within her right. It’s her body. But knowing feels like half the battle, it opens the conversation with everyone and it validates the way she feels. Which I think is so key.
Anyway.... that’s our experience so far. High school is next year but we’ve got a 504 in place and feel really good about the direction of everything.


Amy - these 3 posts about your ADHD have been so enlightening. I've always related to you so much - raising 3 boys, the oldest with autism. And I've always loved your frantic style of writing. Your "voice" sounds like my own. Your blog has always been my #1 go-to work distraction! About a year ago my therapist brought up the idea of ADHD for me after lamenting that I was "doing everything right" and still couldn't concentrate for shit. I immediately dismissed the idea - I am most definitely not hyper. But now after these posts, I have printed out the checklist and will be bringing it with me to the next appointment. There's so much I want to do with my life, yet I feel like I have consistently underachieved. I was convinced this was just who I am, but you've given me hope. Thank you. For everything.


So glad you go to enjoy Little Women with a friend! Amazing what we can perceive about ourselves and what we can't. This brain stuff is hard, man.


This post made me VERY uncomfortable because I relate to is SO HARD. I also had elaborate stories of stardom in my head. I talked constantly as a child. My mother once told me, "Cheryl my ears are tired."
I...just ...check off a lot of these boxes. Thank you for this post. I think I need to make a doctor's appointment.


I wish you had posted all this a few weeks earlier before I had my annual check up. Now I have to go back!

It is all so familiar. My purse looks a garbage can and I can’t entirely blame having a kid. It’s great to have hope.


After reading your first blog post on this subject, I moved up my next psychiatrist appointment and asked to be evaluated. I've been on 10 mg of Adderall for a week and the improvement I have seen is mindblowing. My story is so very similar to yours...thank you for sharing it. It was the catalyst for me to finally get the RIGHT help.


I'm turning 40, and the stories in my head are still my best coping mechanism. I'm not in them (I'm not that interesting) but I do have a very elaborate setting and characters and scripts. Sometimes I peruse Pinterest for pictures of a character or their house or town.

I don't have any other ADHD symptoms, I just like to daydream. However, my 5 year old daughter has all of them, and most of the symptoms you didn't list. We're talking to her pediatrician tomorrow, although her pre-K teacher thinks she may only be borderline at the most. I want to know what to look for if she starts having problems, and how to help her deal with it.


So the hyperfocused, good student with terrible me too. Biting my nails down to the quick so they bleed, reading to escape from, well, LIFE. (still do this). I could even read on the bus, during lunch, etc. No problem blocking out all the kids that I just couldn't understand. So loose and happy and able to yell at each other on the bus and not worry that they were silly, weird, etc? I'm sure part of it is personality types, but man.

I was fine through college, medicated with weed...medicated with drinking in my 20's, quit that, medicated with OCD ...omg everything has to be straight and perfect and... I finally lost it once I had to homeschool my kid for two years and I just couldn't do it?? I would wake up each day saying, today's the day! We're going to all the things! And then, I just wouldn't. It was terrifying. Now I was messing up my kid too.

I'm on meds now and the kiddo is in school. We are all doing much better. Thanks goodness.


The elaborate fantasy daydream, yeah. Along with beating myself up about it going on for too long to be playing pretend, but also telling myself it was because I was creative! When in reality I still cope with anxiety-causing possibilities by imagining in elaborate detail how I will go on after [unlikely event] occurs.

And that menu thing felt all too real to me. I don't even think that specific thing has happened, but I could both feel it happening and also see my husband's face as he tried to process "but it's just a menu". Thankfully, after more than ten years, in these situations, he understands that I'm having a lapse in my ability to cope and can order for me or whatever. But it has to be confusing for the neurotypicals.

Nicole, if you're still checking back, I wish my mom had understood that I really was trying my hardest and that it just didn't look like what trying her hardest looks like. She's very organized, neat, and punctual. So I looked lazy, messy, irresponsible, and forgetful. It doesn't sound like you and your daughter have this kind of fraught relationship, but some of her teachers might have a hard time seeing her effort versus her results, so it's something to keep in mind. And you may want to check in with her to see how she's really coping. I had no idea how much my coping relied on just really brutal self-talk until I started meds and didn't have to berate myself into paying attention or starting tasks anymore. This may really not apply to her since I have some idea of where those thoughts originated, but do find out what coping mechanisms she's relying on so you can make sure they're healthy and helpful.


Is ADHD-ness a thing that is sort of on a scale rather than a strict y/n? Because I'm fairly confident I'm not exactly "neurotypical" (within the range of normal for a nerd, I think? but not typical-typical), but I generally do not fidget. (although... I do have an easier time paying attention to something boring if I can knit at the same time or doodle or otherwise use up a few cycles of my brain so that I don't get into in-depth thinking/problem-solving on another question and completely stop listening, which... hm.)

And if I have something I think is interesting that is vaguely related to a conversation I always want to say it (even if I know it is nerdier than the other people in the conversation will care about, or "too much" [lots of people do not care at all about the fascinating microcrystalline processes that happen when you temper chocolate and why it's easiest to "seed" melted chocolate with already-tempered chocolate; they just want sympathy for their chocolate-dipped strawberries that came out with weird swirly chocolate bloom things on them and they don't know whyyyy] - and sometimes I do *not* say it for that reason), but I mostly don't talk much in group conversations, and often don't talk 50% in one-on-one conversations.

Also with the parentheses. I use too many parentheses.

Also clutter. And procrastination, although I did adjust in college (in my second year) when it was no longer possible to complete assignments on the night before they were due. And getting overwhelmed and frozen sometimes.

But all of these things - I mean, everyone I know can get overwhelmed, if they're tired/stressed/frazzled enough (brain over-full or resources not available to process the full stream of information). There are tons of fascinating studies about humans choosing things, because this is of great interest to marketers and such, and if you present people with too many choices, they are way more likely to walk away than when you present them with a limited set of choices. This doesn't work out the same way if people already know exactly what they want; they can blow past way more choices if they don't have to evaluate any of them except in the most superficial way [you can scoot through the produce section just fine if you know you want exactly one grapefruit and nothing else; the green onions and the apples and bananas do not cause substantial mental tax]. And many people can ratchet down the "I must identify the *absolute best* option in this menu" perfectionism and shift it to a "what's a decent option? sure, that." sort of structure which eliminates the overwhelmed-ness in many situations.

But still: all the humans get overwhelmed if they're being required to really THINK about too many options. But some people get overwhelmed at way lower levels and take a lot longer to adjust to an environment with a high level of novel inputs - but it seems like a spectrum, and also a variable spectrum based on how tired, etc. someone is?

Anyway. Something for me to be aware of and maybe read up on... Thank you for your Public Service Announcements!


This post and the ensuing comments have been so enlightening and helpful. I have an almost 10 year old who is borderline but I keep wondering if she should go towards medication or when the time will be right since she seems to be coping well with meditation and other cognitive strategies. It's nice to hear these stories and knowing that being aware that there might be an issue as she gets older is a lot of the battle. And that although my husband has ADHD, she might not have gotten it from him as some of these boxes are checked for me too. :) That helps me understand her better as well. Thanks for everyone's willingness to means a lot.

Lauren Parker

I feel like I just read this about myself and my childhood. And I'm sitting here wondering, what do I do now?


I am 52 years old and after your first post thought, “Huh, this is me.” I have three children who all have ADHD. One of them is a girl who is very high-achieving so for all the reasons you mention, wasn’t diagnosed until as an adult, she took herself to a psychiatrist and was treated for ADHD and anxiety. And I have now taken myself and diagnosed with ADD and anxiety (expected); but also mild depression (NOT expected). My whole life makes so much more sense now. I would not have realized any of this without your posts. I think you have done a world of good for a lot of people. Thank you, Amy! ❤️


Amy, I just wanted you to know that because of these posts I'm seeking an appointment with my doctor. Like a lot of other people, it seems. I might be finally getting close to an answer for Why I'm Like This.


Amy, one of the things that can go along with ADD is rejection sensitive dysphoria. Once I read about that, my brain made a lot more sense to me.

Also, the talking over people/interrupting is a different collaborative style that neurotypical people don’t really understand. It works if you get a bunch of people like us together, though.

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