Slowly, ADHD Gender Gap Closes
Focusing on the Female
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.
Research conducted at Harvard University and Massachusetts
General Hospital suggests that ADHD in girls, like boys, tends to run in
families, but because girls are not as likely to act out, their symptoms may go
unnoticed. Girls more often have attention problems than the disruptive
behavior that boys can exhibit, says Joseph Biederman, MD, who led the study
published in the July 2000 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.
Girls in general are one-third less likely than boys to exhibit conduct
disorder, he says.
"Girls tend to be less obvious because they are less
disruptive," says Biederman, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical
School and chief of pediatric psychopharmacology at Massachusetts General.
"If you are a girl and sit in the back of the room and smile, no one will
pay attention to you."
Hyperactivity in girls often shows verbally instead of
physically, in what Nadeau refers to as the "Chatty Kathy phenomenon."
These are the girls who talk in the back of the classroom and are extremely
social, but often are not diagnosed as having ADHD.
About half of inattentive ADHD children are overlooked despite
their gender, says Nadeau, co-editor of ADDvance Magazine, a publication
for women and girls with ADD or ADHD. "An inattentive little boy will be
more obvious. He's just sitting there drawing airplanes or looking out the
window," she says. "A lot of girls will tell you they have learned to
look at their teacher while daydreaming because that won't get them into
trouble. A lot of this teacher-compliant behavior masks the problem."
Screening guidelines for ADHD are "based mostly on
hyperactivity in young boys. These were the kids causing the most problems.
They were the most disruptive. It's a matter of the squeaky wheel," says