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Don’t Call Her An Airhead

Attention Disorder Strikes Girls As Hard As Boys

Girls with ADHD showed much higher rates of certain psychological
and behavior problems, like depression and smoking, when compared
to healthy girls. (Marco Doelling/

By Claudine Chamberlain

In any discussion of kids with attention-deficit hyperactivity
disorder, there’s always someone who dismisses the problem by
saying, “Well, boys will be boys.”

But that line won’t work anymore, as new research shows that ADHD is
hardly a guys-only problem. A study published in the latest Journal
of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
underscores just how deeply girls can suffer as a result of ADHD.

Compared to healthy girls, they score lower on IQ and academic tests,
have more trouble with their families, are more likely to get
depressed and have a greater risk of panic and anxiety attacks. And,
even more so than boys with ADHD, they’re at greater risk for using
drugs and alcohol.

Largest Study to Date

That’s according to the largest and most comprehensive survey of
girls with ADHD to date, led by Dr. Joseph Biederman, a child and
adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Biederman and colleagues studied 140 girls with the disorder,
comparing them to 122 healthy girls.

“The field of ADHD has focused traditionally on boys. There was an
assumption that girls didn’t suffer as much,” Biederman says. “But
this puts the disorder on the map, and shows that it’s a serious
problem not only among boys but also girls.”

ADHD affects 3 percent to 5 percent of all school-age children. The
three hallmark symptoms are inattention, hyperactivity and impulsive
behavior, which usually show up as restlessness, an inability to
concentrate, trouble following directions, constant fidgeting or
excessive talking. It accounts for one-third to one-half of
referrals for children’s mental health services.

Some Signs of ADHD in Girls

Loses school supplies, forgets to turn in homework

Has trouble finishing class work and homework

Has trouble paying attention

Has trouble listening

Has trouble following multiple adult commands

Inattention to details, makes careless mistakes

Treatment usually involves a stimulant drug like Ritalin, which is
controversial among critics who say that better parenting skills are
the real solution. However, many experts agree that such drugs are
safe and effective for children.

Red Flag Missing for Girls

Among boys and girls, Biederman’s study found, the symptoms of ADHD
are virtually identical ” except in one key area. Girls are only half
as likely to be disruptive ” acting out at school or home. As
Biederman explains, that’s one of the main red flags that signals
when a child needs help.

“Aggression and oppositional behavior are associated features of the
disorder. They’re not central to ADHD,” he says. “So if doctors are
only looking for associated symptoms, they might miss ADHD in girls.”

Previous studies have shown that, in the community at large, the
ratio of boys with ADHD to girls with the disorder is about three to
one. But when you look at the kids who actually get sent for
evaluations and treatment, the boys outnumber the girls 10 to one.

By conservative estimates, at least 1 million girls and women in the
United States have ADHD.

Dr. Peter Jensen, senior adviser to the director of the National
Institutes of Mental Health and an expert in attention disorders,
says there’s no question that girls suffer because they don’t get
diagnosed as often or as early on as boys do.

The Alcohol, Drug Connection

“They’re more likely to suffer silently, and they might have more
failure in school before someone thinks that maybe there’s something
wrong, other than she’s just not motivated,” Jensen says. “Unfortunately,
girls also might get labeled as airheads” instead of being recognized
as having a real problem.

Jensen says other studies have also found that girls are less
hyperactive than boys, and that’s another reason why their attention
problems don’t get noticed as often.

One of the study’s most alarming findings, Biederman says, is that
girls with ADHD are much more likely than other girls ” and even more
likely than boys with the same disorder ” to have trouble with
alcohol or drugs.

Even though the mean age of the girls in the study was just 11, a
surprising number used alcohol or drugs. Roughly 4 percent had drug
dependence, while another 4 percent showed signs of alcohol abuse.
That, he says, should provide even more motivation for parents,
teachers and doctors to identify the problem early on.

[Fred A. Baughman Jr., MD:
First it was boys, 6 and 7, and they outgrew it by their teens.
Next, they didn't outgrow it-it lasted through adolescence. Then it
lasted through adulthood too-throught the 'lifespan' as they are fond of
saying. As of July, 1999, it affects girls-women too. As of 2000/2001,
it affects infants, toddlers, and preschoolers as well, boys girls,
black white, brown and yellow-it is an equal opportunity invented,
fraudulent 'disease' that allows each and every one to have their
Schedule II, controlled, Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall, Dex, 'speed',
'ice', just as legal as you please. This is the 'epidemiology' of the
'disease' that has taken it from 150,000 in 1970, when the government
first recognized it as a 'health problem' to 6 million today. How many
battalions is that that will not be able to get into the armed forces
because of their drug/mental histories; because the Department of
Defense is the only part of the US government who recognizes that all
who are 'treated' are forever damaged. ]

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