Stereotypes can have grave consequences. Apart from being a blow to one’s self esteem and generating a general/collective outlook that does not give room for individuality, it acts as an obstacle for unbiased acquisition of knowledge through research that could affect the wellbeing of certain sections of the society among which women are the most affected. Due to being labeled as ‘dim’ or ‘hysterical’, the symptoms of the mental disorder ADHD are missed to such an extent, it generates the misconception of only men to be the sex which suffers from ADHD.
What is ADHD?
ADHD or Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a mental disorder characterized by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.
What are the symptoms of ADHD?
The symptoms may include:
- Lack of persistence
- Wandering off
- Bad focus
- Excessive fidgeting or talking
- Performing hasty actions that have may have a potential for harm
- Excessive social intrusion etc.
However, a common misconception about ADHD is that girls are thought to be almost ‘immune’ to this disorder and even the scientific literature on ADHD, is almost exclusively based on male subjects. But why would that be?
Why girls who suffer from ADHD are neglected in the diagnostic radar?
Despite the estimates made by psychiatrists about how nearly half of all children with ADHD are females, 50% fewer girls are referred for ADHD evaluations and treatment than boys.
To solve this puzzle, one can start with the basics i.e. the biological differences between the two sexes. The anatomical differences between the brains of boys and girls is said to perhaps lead to functional differences in the way that boys and girls typically think.
These differences are all secondary to the exposure of the unborn fetus to different ratios of sex hormones during the intrauterine period. It is also hypothesized that the hormonal effects of prenatal testosterone may make boys more vulnerable to the development of ADHD.
Research has also suggested that high intrauterine concentrations of testosterone may be the cause of several neurodevelopmental disorders, including ADHD, autism and reading disabilities.
However, the other missing chunk of the puzzle is the lack of research. Vast majority of studies have been conducted solely on boys, or, have included very few girls in the sample resulting in the perception of girls do not suffer from ADHD in general.
There are also differences in the types of ADHD that boys and girls typically present with: girls have a less disruptive type of ADHD known as the inattentive ADHD which is marked by less disruptive and impulsive behavior and more by disorganized, unfocused performance and is less likely to be a concern to the guardians concerned.
A combination of the widely held belief, lack of proper information, and the inability of the untrained eye to identify the disorder, girls are being underdiagnosed until they come up with additional disorders like depression, mood disorders, self-esteem issues intellectual disabilities, motor skill disorders etc. that co-occur with ADHD.
How does ADHD affect girls?
Based on the research on males, it was believed for a long time that for diagnosis the symptoms of ADHD must be present before age 7. Interestingly, symptoms of ADHD in females often don’t emerge until puberty, a time when most kids experience emotional ups and downs. And due to the social norms which pressurize girls to behave in a certain way, ADHD symptoms may not become overly apparent until middle or high school, when a student’s work requirements increase dramatically.
Some girls may present with a hyperactive type of ADHD. However, there tends to be behavioral differences between hyperactive girls and hyperactive boys: girls tend to be hyper-talkative and emotionally hyper-reactive, whereas boys are often unable to sit still.
Girls with hyperactive/impulsive type ADHD, or combined ADHD, thus have the chances of being stigmatized as being boyish. For many young women, the anxiety, stress, and low self-esteem that comes with ADHD feels intolerable by early adulthood. A wider range of difficulties are to be faced by girls with ADHD, than the boys who suffer from the same disorder.
Girls with ADHD, share with boys the strong risks of school failure, rejection by peers, and substance abuse and unlike boys, they also have a particularly high risk for developing depression, self-injuring behavior, and eating disorders.
In conclusion, continuous research must be conducted to include both the sexes without any presumptions or gender biases. Education of teachers and parents is a must so that girls can finally receive the diagnosis they deserve regarding ADHD.