5 reasons ADHD goes unrecognized in girls

Difficulties with sitting still, paying attention or controlling impulsive behavior are some of the initial signs or symptoms of ADHD in children. These signs are often stereotyped as typical of behavior of young boys. It’s reported that boys are three times more likely to be diagnosed than girls.1

Between not being included in ADHD research and the societal gender norms of female behavior, it has been a challenge to pinpoint this disorder in girls. Here are some reasons for this difference in diagnosing girls with ADHD.

1) Perception of ‘personality traits’

The symptoms of ADHD in girls present differently than boys and are most times thought of as characteristics of their personality.2,3 Daydreaming and shyness are common signs for inattentiveness that are missed, while being talkative or crying easily may be a version of impulsivity, but instead these signs may be overlooked and written off.2,3 Due to the conflicting portrayals, it’s difficult for parents or teachers to decide if something is a personality trait or a symptom.

2) Lack of inclusion in research

Females were never studied exclusively in ADHD research. It wasn’t until 2002 that two long-term studies were completed on ADHD in girls.4 While there appears to be an abundance of information available, more research on gender issues in ADHD is needed to help raise the awareness of the needs of girls with the disorder.

3) Stigma of labels

As ADHD goes undiagnosed and may be dismissed as a personality trait, girls in their formative years can be burdened with labels of being a crybaby, lazy, careless or talkative, which can lead to low self-esteem, underachievement, anxiety or depression.4 The sooner parents and teachers identify ADHD, the greater chance for girls to be free of the stigma of these damaging labels that can follow them into adulthood.

4) Girls never measured up

For years doctors have used boys’ symptoms as the guide for which girls should be measured. The current diagnostic criteria are more appropriate for males as they present more problematic ADHD behaviors that are easier to identify.3,4 Some even believe this disorder does not occur in females at all. This calls for more accurate, gender-specific screening tools to adequately recognize and treat ADHD in girls.

5) Overachievers and overcompensation

Since school age, girls are groomed to be more socially conscious and understand the need to do well in school. Many times symptoms of ADHD are missed not only because they may be different than those seen in boys, but also due to girls masking the signs with coping strategies.2,3,5 Perfectionism is another common characteristic seen in girls and by putting forth so much effort and concentration on things they may be good at, parents and teachers won’t think of ADHD when there is an issue with inattention.2,3

The first step to diagnosis is for parents and teachers to acknowledge what they may be seeing at home and in class may be symptoms of ADHD and not rule them out. While ADHD is a common and treatable medical disorder, only a doctor or other healthcare provider can diagnose ADHD. To learn more, visit MoreToADHD.com.

References:

  1. “What is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?”. More to ADHD. https://www.moretoadhd.com/what-is-adhd/. Accessed December 21, 2020.
  2. Low, Keath. “20 Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Girls”. Very Well Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/adhd-in-girls-symptoms-of-adhd-in-girls-20547. Accessed January 5, 2021.
  3. Young, Susan, et al. Females with ADHD: An expert consensus statement taking a lifespan approach providing guidance for the identification and treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in girls and women. BMC Psychiatry. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7422602/pdf/12888_2020_Article_2707.pdf. Accessed January 5, 2021.
  4. Crawford, Nicole. “ADHD: a women’s issue”. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/monitor/feb03/adhd. Accessed January 5, 2021.
  5. Connolly, Maureen. “ADHD in Girls: Why It’s Ignored, Why That’s Dangerous”. ADDitude. https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-in-girls-women/. Accessed January 5, 2021.

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