Slowly, ADHD Gender Gap Closes
Focusing on the Female
Unlike boys whose symptoms decrease at puberty, girls' symptoms
often increase during this time of hormonal change, Nadeau says. The diagnosing
criteria for ADHD, however, require that symptoms begin before age 7, according
to the National Institute of Mental Health.
"We need better criteria," Jaksa says. "We need
more realistic diagnostic [measures] that address what is going on with
Not everyone agrees. Biederman believes that the diagnosing
guidelines are appropriate. Better education on how to recognize inattentive
ADHD, and get girls referred for diagnosing, would help resolve the gender gap,
"The issue is more emphasis on clinicians and educators not
to rely only on aggression to recognize ADHD," Biederman says. "ADHD in
girls may not be as commonly described."
Consider, too, that the most common drug treatment for ADHD is
methylphenidate (Ritalin), yet much of the research has been conducted in men
and boys. One of the most recent studies, published in the Jan. 12, 2001,
online issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, used 11 men as its
subjects. In the study, researchers from the Brookhaven National Laboratory in
Upton, N.Y., and the University of New York at Stony Brook found that Ritalin
amplifies dopamine release in the brain and speculated that this would improve
attention and decrease distractibility. They noted, however, that their tests
were conducted in healthy adult men who were tested in "stress-free"
conditions, and said further research was needed.
More studies are under way to further point out the
similarities and differences in symptoms between boys and girls. Left
untreated, ADHD can lead to depression, lack of self-esteem, and emotional and
academic problems -- including drug experimentation and earlier sexual
relations for girls, according to Nadeau. Many children with the disorder are
physically active and more prone to injury. Once they reach adulthood,
undiagnosed ADHD women often struggle with organization and being consistent as
parents, just like ADHD men, she says.
"There are a lot of things that happen and they don't have
an understanding of why," says Nadeau, who has authored several books,
including Understanding Girls with ADHD. "Everyone just blames them.
There is tremendous psychological damage."