Feb. 12, 2001 -- Becky Stanford loved gymnastics, but she
didn't stick with it because she couldn't wait her turn. She had difficulty
following rigid formats like long division and essay outlines. She struggled in
school and with friends. Even her Sunday school teachers dreaded having her in
"I was much louder, much more energetic than my peers.
Sometimes it really overwhelmed people," says Stanford, now 28 and living
in Helena, Mont. "You had to really gear up to have me over for the weekend
or overnight. At sleepovers, I was the one sent to another room because I was
keeping people up."
ADHD is a complex condition and is sometimes difficult to diagnose.
There is no single test for ADHD. Doctors diagnose ADHD in children and teens after discussing symptoms at length with the child and parents -- and possibly teachers -- and observing the child's behaviors. The doctor will also gather information about any similar problems that run in the family, and consider all possible causes.
To confirm a diagnosis of ADHD and/or learning differences, a battery of tests may...
At 13, Stanford was diagnosed with attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Her brother was already seeking treatment for
the condition, but even with ever-watchful parents, the disorder did not seem
apparent in her because she was a girl.
Indeed, four to five times more boys than girls are referred
for ADHD evaluations because their symptoms are easier to spot, according to
Kathleen G. Nadeau, PhD, director of Chesapeake Psychological Services in
Silver Spring, Md. Boys, she says, tend to pose more problems for their
teachers and may appear more hyperactive. Girls with ADHD (or ADD, as it is
called when there is no hyperactivity issue) are less rebellious and tend to be
inattentive. As a result, she says, many girls with undiagnosed ADHD are
dismissed as lazy or spacey, when in fact they simply may not be getting the
help they need.
"They are so good at hiding it, disguising it, and
compensating for it, a lot of parents and teachers don't know what is going
on," Nadeau tells WebMD.
The disorder has been considered two to three times more common
in boys than girls, but many believe the numbers are skewed. "It's much
closer to one to one," says Peter Jaksa, PhD, president of the National
Attention Deficit Disorder Association, and a psychologist with a private
practice in suburban Chicago. "But girls have always been underdiagnosed
because they are harder to spot."
"Girls seem to work the system a little better. They can
become the teachers' pets and the teachers don't have the same
expectations," agrees Becky's mother, Paula Stanford, LPC, who now runs an
Oklahoma City diagnostic and counseling clinic for children and adults with
ADHD and learning disabilities. "Girls can be charming or coy or ditzy, and
it can still be kind of cute. The cultural way of looking at females has a lot
to do with that."
ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder in
childhood, with an estimated 3% to 5% of the general population suffering from
it, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Symptoms can include
hyperactivity, a lack of attention span, and impulsive behavior. People with
the disorder often are disorganized, cannot complete tasks, and have trouble
following more than one instruction at a time. Symptoms can begin as early as
age 3 and usually are noticeable by age 7.