ADHD Diagnosis in Girls: A Cautionary Tale
It’s become abundantly clear that girls with ADHD have fallen between the cracks. In Attention Difference Disorder (2011) psychiatrist Kenny Handelman says that while the ratio of ADHD is actually equal in males and females, we’re still diagnosing 3 to 4 times as many boys.
In Suffering in Silence: Women with Adult ADHD, F. Xavier Castellanos, MD, director of the Institute for Paediatric Neuroscience at the New York University Child Study Centre says it’s even worse, that the ratio of males to females being treated is as high as nine males for every one girl.
But let’s look at the bright side. Given typical ADHD symptoms in girls, ADHD symptoms in girls have a great chance of being magnified in today’s social climate. Maybe, finally, we’ll sit up and take notice –
and get these girls the help they need (and deserve).
Let’s examine why the time is right for ADHD symptoms in girls.
1 ) Crappy Diets
In the wonderful world of food additives, wheat-laden food products, and processed everything, some studies show that ADHD symptoms will reveal themselves in their full splendour.
While research isn’t conclusive, Handelman cites several studies that show a significant improvement of ADD symptoms in kids where crap is kept to a minimum (pp. 152-153). As we’re still a long way from adopting healthy, whole food diets as a society, we can count on kids’ crap consumption continuing, thus bringing girls’ ADHD symptoms to the fore.
2 ) Sofa Versus Sporty Spice
Remember the Spice Girls? Nevermind. Let’s just say, it’s a good bet that there are more Sofa Girls than Sporty Girls in North America, and this is great if we want to bring out ADHD symptoms
In fact, new research suggests that girls’ ADHD symptoms (inattention in particular) can lead to severe obesity.
On the other hand, sports seems to be a great treatment in minimizing ADHD symptoms.
3 ) Ignoring What They’re Good At
With public schools underfunded and teachers and parents alike stretched to the max, there’s little chance that ADHD girls will get the encouragement they need around what they’re good at. Hell, there’s little chance anyone will even notice that little Susie kicks ass in leadership.
In Understanding ADHD in Girls: Identification and Social Characteristics (2010), researchers Janice A. Groskovic and Syndney S. Zentall, show girls with ADHD failing 5 out of 6 criteria for positive social behavior, 94% of them have at least one social trait they’re good at. The researchers suggest that focusing on the positive could help these girls. But first, we need to notice.
4 ) Gender Stereotypes Are Alive and Well
In some regards, North American culture might as well be back in the 50s. Have you been card shopping lately? Pink for baby girls, blue for baby boys; and kids with ADHD are hyperactive little boys, right? Wrong.
Even if a girl in public school is also bouncing off the walls, constantly mouthing off (verbal impulsivity is the number one hallmark of ADHD in girls), they won’t get diagnosed and treated for ADHD – even when teachers notice ADHD behaviors, according to Groskovic and Zentall and other researchers.
Girls (like me when I was in public school) can act as ADHD –y as they want, but they still won’t get the help they need.
5 ) Sexual Laissez-faire
It’s no secret that Victoria’s Secret is not just for adults anymore; girls as young as 7 and 8 are encouraged to sex it up in dress and behavior. Tons of research shows that undiagnosed ADHD leads to a much higher rate of unwanted pregnancies and STD’s. When your kid comes home with the clap or with child, it might be a good time to rethink their impulsivity and take them to an ADHD specialist.
Or you can wait until their their ex-bff rats them out for impulsive sexting. Your choice.
I hypothesize that impulsivity in ADHD girls can be downright dangerous: if your kid’s been lured by an online pervert, their ADHD might have been part of the trap. Low self-esteem, impulsivity, and a desperate need to please and be accepted after being rejected repeatedly is a killer combo that can lead to heightened vulnerability in ADHD girls.
Let’s just say, current sexual attitudes are a (pardon the expression) hot bed for gestating ADHD symptoms in girls.
6 ) Rampant Body Image Concerns
If your Sofa Sally isn’t obese, she might be going the other way by wasting away with an eating disorder. These too are coming under the radar as possibly prevalent in ADHD girls.
Studies show that girls with ADHD internalize their feelings of shame about their ADHD-ness, are often rejected by their peers and adults alike, and respond by trying to please. This can quickly turn into obsessive perfectionism, and modelling themselves after scrawny models is not unheard of.
7 ) Smoking
Research shows that addictive smoking is common in people with ADHD. While the social trend is towards less smoking, the opposite may be true in undiagnosed and untreated girls with ADHD. It’s called self-medicating when a stimulant, any stimulant, soothes the savage ADHDer.
So sniff the smelly sweater and get your little chain smoker in for an ADHD assessment!
So there you have it: 7 great reasons why today’s climate is perfect for bringing out ADHD symptoms in girls.
Do we really need to be hit over the head? Probably.
But be careful: severe head injury can also result in ADHD symptoms.
Attention Difference Disorder, by Kenny Handelman, M.D. (Morgan James Publishing, 2011)
Suffering in Silence: Women With Adult ADHD, by Dulce Zamora, Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD; WebMD Feature
Understanding ADHD in Girls: Identification and Social Characteristics, Janice A. Grskovic and Syndey S. Zentall, International Journal of Special Education, Vol. 25, No 1, 2010
Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in severely obese women, J.P. Fleming, L.D. Levy, and R.D. Levitan, Eating Weight Disord. Vol. 10: e10-e13, March 2005
Kessler, Z. (2012). ADHD Diagnosis in Girls: A Cautionary Tale. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 26, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/adhd-zoe/2012/06/adhd-diagnosis-in-girls-a-cautionary-tale/