Ever hear that ADHD is overdiagnosed? Well, the facts point to exactly the opposite conclusion for girls and women.
Quartz recently reported on new data that suggests we have an entire lost generation of women who struggle to manage this condition on their own during their early years. Social neglect has forced many such girls to fend for themselves.
A condition wrongly fixated around boys
“ADHD is not gender linked,” says Dr. Patricia Quan, director of the Center for Gender Issues and ADHD. “The diagnosis should be 50-50 between boys and girls.”
But as you’ve probably noticed on this blog and others, diagnoses are currently skewed about 2 to 1 towards boys. This is not an advantage for women but a disadvantage, since it suggests under-diagnosis and a corresponding lack of treatment for many silently affected women.
So what is the reason for the discrepancy in diagnoses?
Same condition, different forms
Because ADHD is not only a disorder of inattention but also impulsivity and hyperactivity, it’s far easier to see the traits that boys tend to display. A boys bouncing off the walls and causing a ruckus in class will likely receive attention from parents and teachers. But a girl quietly daydreaming in the back of the room probably will not.
That makes it doubly important to understand what “quiet signs” to watch out for in girls, in order to give them the proper care and attention.
Signs to look for ADHD in girls
All signs appear to bemore subtle in girls than in boys, so you may need to look more carefully to spot them. Scholastic provides the following list of signs to watch for:
- Nonstop talking: Some girls really are that extroverted. But if a girl continues talking even after being asked to stop, or habitually interrupts peers and adults, it may be a sign of a deeper issue
- Friendship troubles: Another reason ADHD is underdiagnosed in girls, is because girls themselves appear to be better at hiding the condition in order to socially fit in. But despite their best attempts, ADHD can still cause them to have trouble fitting in with peers.
“They can be talkative and outgoing, but by the end of the week, they may not have many friends because they got too bossy or interrupted too much,” says Kathleen Nadeau, clinical psychologist, and coauthor of Understanding Girls with AD/HD.
- Difficulty paying attention: Among the three subtypes of ADHD, girls tend to be of the inattentive variety. Difficulty listening and taking in complex information are signs that aren’t easy to spot, especially when there is a cultural tendency to label girls as being ditzy or spaced out for not remembering as easily as boys.
- Exceptional messiness: This is one of the easier to spot signs. If a girl’s desk or room is exceptionally messy, and if she can’t even find her own things among the mass, it’s a strong sign that she has organizational problems that further point to ADHD.
- Unfinished work: If a girl is instructed to clean her room but just can’t seem to finish, that’s a sign of impaired executive functioning skills. Similarly, in class the girl may turn in assignments that are half finished or rushed far too often.
- High emotionality: While boys with strong emotions tend to manifest as angry or aggressive, girls tend to shed tears or switch between sadness and outrage. Chronic emotionality is another indicator of poor control of impulsive tendencies.
Although it’s harder to spot in girls, ADHD affects their lives just the same as with boys. Let’s do all we can to ensure they receive the proper attention and care they deserve by becoming more intelligent in spotting the warning signs.