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ADHD -- Not Just for Boys

Girls Get ADHD, Too
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Are you always running late? Frequently losing your keys? Not sleeping well? You may think you're just disorganized, but there's a good chance you're suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), also called attention deficit disorder (ADD).

The condition is a behavior disorder that usually begins in early childhood, but it can continue into adulthood. Until recently it was thought to affect boys more than girls, but current research shows that boys and girls, men and women, suffer from the problem in equal numbers, says Kathleen Nadeau, PhD, director of Chesapeake Psychological Services of Maryland, in Silver Spring. Nadeau is co-editor of ADDvance Magazine and co-author with Patricia Quinn, MD, of Understanding Women with ADHD and Gender Issues and ADHD: Research, Diagnosis, and Treatment.

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According to Robert Resnick, PhD, professor of psychology at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., and author of The Hidden Disorder: A Clinician's Guide to Attention Hyperactivity Disorder in Adults, more girls are now being diagnosed with the condition because new computer models allow it to be measured on performance tests for both genders.

Researchers also now realize that the behavior of little girls who have the disorder differs from that of little boys. Parents and teachers who know what to look for can better recognize the warning signs, Nadeau says.

Girls with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are often less rebellious, less defiant, and generally less "difficult" than boys who have the disorder, says Nadeau. Because they're less likely to be disruptive, the symptoms they do show frequently get overlooked at home and at school.

Hyperactive girls are often tomboys, daydreamers, or "chatty Kathys," but not necessarily troublemakers, says Nadeau. If they're not diagnosed with an attention disorder, they're often seen instead as ditzy, spacey, and not academically inclined. Because they're disorganized and easily distracted, Nadeau adds, they may drop many of their hobbies or interests, fall behind in school, and come to see themselves as quitters.

"When they grow up, these behaviors continue, often leaving them in a constant state of 'overwhelm,'" says Nadeau.

Recent research is looking further into how the disorder may be different depending upon gender, as well as into the possible effects of catching it late.

In the January 2002 issue of the Journal of Attention Disorders, researcher Jonathan Gershon of Emory University confirmed what Nadeau has found -- that compared with afflicted boys, girls with the disorder don't show the same degree of hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsive behavior. An earlier study in the October 1997 issue of the same journal found that women with the condition who were not diagnosed as children have more symptoms of depression, are more anxious and stressed, have low self-esteem, and have fewer coping strategies.

Because women with attention deficits show more signs of depression, they also may be diagnosed -- correctly or incorrectly -- as depressed, while their attention deficit hyperactivity problem may be missed, says Linda Katz, PhD, president of Landmark College in Putney, Vt. Her school offers educational programs for students with attention deficit disorders, dyslexia, and other learning disabilities.

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