At a neighborhood party, a young boy is garnering most of the attention and not necessarily in a positive way. He is in nonstop motion, interrupting adult conversations, continually grabbing onto other kids and unable to sit still even to eat.
At some time or another, most of us have witnessed a boy displaying these behavioral tendencies, and we make the generalized assumption: “Boy, that kid must be ADHD.”
In truth, when we think of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder in children, our first image is usually that of a primary grade or preschool-age boy.
But ADHD does not favor one gender over another.
In a recent Scholastic.com article on ADHD (“Girls and ADHD: Are You Missing the Signs?”), experts cited the condition is not gender-linked, and that medication for ADHD is prescribed equally to adult men and women.
“The diagnosis should be 50-50 between boys and girls” but it is not, said Dr. Patricia Quinn, director of the Center for Gender Issues and ADHD.
So, why is it that we tend to not think of girls as having ADHD? The stereotype often leaves the diagnosis undetected.
One key reason is that girls tend to display more of the attention issues over the more overtly hyperactive symptoms, according to Dr. David Koopmann, school psychologist coordinator for Indian Prairie School District 204 in Aurora and Naperville.
“Girls who may meet the diagnostic criteria for the inattentive type of ADHD may not readily display behavior problems in class,” he said. “As a result, these symptoms may not be noticed until it is reflected on homework, tests or when called on in class.”
There are three types of ADHD. There is the combined type of inattention and hyperactivity, inattentive type, and the hyperactive type, according to the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — Fifth Edition.” Within these types of ADHD, the symptoms do not discriminate between males or females. In comparison to girls, boys may exhibit symptoms more related to the hyperactive type.
Still, there are definitive signs of the inattentive type of ADHD shared by both genders, according to the manual. Those common symptoms include: lack of attention to details; difficulties with concentration (sustaining attention); difficulties with focusing on tasks; lack of follow-through with instructions, chores or homework; difficulties with organization (messy room, locker or book bag); being easily distracted and losing personal items.
The symptoms related to hyperactivity include: excessive talking, frequently interrupting or blurting out answers in class, difficulties with waiting for their turn, leaving one’s assigned seat in class without permission, and fidgeting.
Research has found that, because girls are less likely to show signs of the hyperactivity element, they are likely to go longer without getting the proper attention and diagnosis. On average, girls are medically diagnosed with ADHD five years later than boys, age 12 compared to age 7, according to a national study cited by Scholastic.com.
One possible reason for such a gap is the symptoms tend to magnify as children get older, Koopmann said.
“For girls, the impacts of the inattentive ADHD symptoms become more visible because the academic expectations become more intensified as they increase in grade,” he said. “As the homework expectation increases, there may be less homework turned in, difficulties with performance on tests, and difficulties with sustaining attention or focus in the class.”
Teens with ADHD symptoms can become frustrated and suffer from low self-esteem.
To avoid escalating problems, parents and educators are encouraged to pay closer attention to the symptoms of ADHD in females at a younger age.
One resource for parents is Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. CHADD is a national organization with local chapters in both Kane and DuPage counties. The organization helps parents understand the symptoms of ADHD, and advocates for their child’s needs on several levels, including on health care and at school.
“A diagnosis does not automatically entitle a student to services or accommodations, however,” according to the CHADD website
District 204 educates its staff yearly on the signs and symptoms of ADHD, Koopmann said.
“Teachers (in District 204) are aware of how ADHD will impact a student within the classroom and will consult with a school psychologist or school social worker on how to best support the student,” he said. “Teachers monitor grades and classroom behaviors of students to determine if further follow up is needed.”
As Koopmann pointed out, it is important to remember that ADHD symptoms need to be observed in multiple settings for at least six months before a proper evaluation can be made. “Most often the symptoms are best observed in school,” he said, but educators do not make diagnoses. That has to come from medical professionals.
There is no single test for a diagnosis, rather a comprehensive behavior evaluation is needed on many fronts, including home life, social settings and in the classroom. Pediatricians should also monitor developmental progress if concerns arise. The process takes time for a proper diagnosis.