A very important consideration about the research on attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) is that it has focused primarily on boys. At the same time, it is a well-known fact that there are many girls that experience the challenges of this dysfunction. A visit at most schools across North America would reveal that ADD/ADHD is not necessarily a boys’ only challenge. Because of this, a vast amount of the scientific literature on ADD/ADHD refers to findings on male subjects.
A recent study by the National Institute of Mental health based on a large group of female students with and without the symptoms of ADD/ADHD was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The authors of the study examined the clinical correlated of attention deficit hyperactive disorder in female students so that comparisons with findings in boys could be ascertained. It is important to note that this is one of the largest and comprehensive studies that has been published about ADD and ADHD in girls, thus making the findings interesting and of importance to the scientific field.
The study looked at 140 girls age 6 and 18 who had been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD based on structured psychiatric interviews conducted with their parent(s) and 122 girls of similar ages and backgrounds who had no signs of ADD or ADHD. The researchers looked at a variety of characteristics to learn how girls are affected by attention deficit disorders. The researchers findings revealed that the girls that were diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, 59% of them experienced both types, 27% had the predominantly inattentive type, and 7% had the predominantly hyperactive impulsive type.
In addition to the foregoing findings, the researchers found that compared to girls without ADD/ADHD, girls that were diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, were more likely to be diagnosed with other malfunctioning behaviours. They tended to be oppositional, defiant, moody, anxious, and more likely to fall into substance abuse. Tic disorders and enuresis (bed wetting or day-time wetting) were also common in the girls with ADD/ADHD diagnosis. Overall, 45% of the girls with ADHD/ADD were diagnosed with at least one other condition. Only 4% of the girls with ADHD/ADD had more than 2 other disorders, however.
It was clear from the findings that the rate of behaviour disorders in girls with ADD/ADHD was high. However, compared to rate reported for boys, it was much lower. The reason for this may be rooted in the fact that disruptive behaviour disorders are among the main reasons that children get identified and referred for treatment. Because of the lower incidence of disruptive behaviour disorders in girls, fewer girls are diagnosed and that may explain the difference in the percentages of children who receive clinical treatment.
One other finding worthy of note was the similarity of mood and anxiety disorder in girls with ADD/ADHD and that of boys with ADD/ADHD. However, the findings showed that girls with ADD/ADHD were more likely than boys to have difficulty in the area of substance use and likely abuse. Girls, for example, were more likely to smoke than boys.
Academically, girls with ADHD/ADD on measures of intellectual functioning and academic achievement had scores that were slightly lower than what was found in the non-ADHD/ADD girls. However, they were 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability, more than 16 times more likely to have repeated a grade in school, and almost 10 times as likely to have been categorized as requiring special placement in school. It was not clear why, with the modest difference in academic achievement, that girls with ADD/ADHD were more likely to repeat a grade.
Parents should be alerted to the importance of ensuring that girls’ educational needs are addressed in a careful, adequate, and timely manner. The earlier a diagnosis can be made, the greater the chances that a student has to have intervention put in place and the academic needs met. Services for students with academic needs are available but can only be accessed if the students that require them are identified.
A. Adolphus Evans