For every girl diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD), three boys receive the diagnosis — but experts suspect this isn’t because more boys are affected by it.
Rather, the discrepancy between the number of boys and girls diagnosed with this neurobehavioral condition likely is rooted in the fact that ADD often isn’t as recognizable in girls.
“A boy’s brain tends to be more action/mechanical. Therefore, they tend to present more action — hyperactivity, jumping out of their seat, not sitting still,” Dr. Cynthia Brownfield of Heartland Pediatric and Adult Care explains. “These behaviors tend to disrupt the classroom, and teachers take notice. Most kids are referred for evaluation by teachers, so if the student is disrupting the class, the teacher will likely refer that student on for evaluation and diagnosis.”
She adds that in girls, ADD has a more emotional presentation. Instead of disrupting class, for example, girls may forget their homework, fail to complete assignments or misunderstand directions — and a teacher may attribute these simply to a lack of effort.
“It is important for parents to look at these struggles. … It is more likely for a parent to pick up on symptoms compared to teacher recognition,” Dr. Brownfield says. “Girls tend to be diagnosed up to five years later than boys and miss the potential benefit of appropriate treatment. A struggling girl would benefit tremendously from an ADD evaluation and treatment if it is recognized earlier.”
When girls aren’t diagnosed, their symptoms are likely to persist into adulthood; a recent article published by MSN Healthy Living reports that although experts used to think children with ADD eventually would outgrow the condition, it is now believed that up to 60 percent of children with ADD still will exhibit symptoms as adults if left untreated. The piece also notes that nearly 5 million American women have ADD and, as a result, may end up plagued by anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.
And as is the case with girls, women with ADD display less recognizable symptoms than men with the condition. The article says that a woman with ADD may come off as chatty, peppy or extroverted rather than classically hyperactive. But underneath these seemingly innocuous characteristics, she may feel deeply frustrated by seemingly simple tasks and may struggle in relationships and at work.
“They may feel as though they are constantly being judged — as flighty, inept, late, disorganized, scattered,” Dr. Tracy Latz, a psychiatrist and associate clinical professor at Wake Forest University Medical Center, says in the article.
However, as with girls, women who receive treatment for ADD can see their quality of life increase. The article quotes Dr. Jon J. Markey, a psychiatrist with the Center for Human Development at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., as saying that nearly 70 percent of adults who are treated for ADD improve substantially.
“Many feel vindicated and validated after receiving the diagnosis,” he adds.