Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition often associated with boys, but emerging research and clinical data reveal that this perspective is misleading. Many young girls are suffering from ADHD but are not receiving appropriate diagnoses, thereby missing out on vital treatments. The causes for this are varied, and there is no single cause. But because expert estimate that ADHD is equally as prevalent in women as it is in men, despite women representing less than a fraction of those diagnosed with ADHD, it is important to identify and address the issues that lead to ADHD underdiagnosis.
Factors Contributing to Underdiagnosis
There is no single reason that ADHD is going underdiagnosed in girls and young women. The causes are varied, and are societal, cultural, and much more. Some of the reasons for this underdiagnosis include:
- Gender Bias in Diagnostic Criteria
Historical data and research studies have a male-centric focus, which has shaped ADHD diagnostic criteria. This bias makes it more challenging to identify ADHD symptoms that manifest differently in girls.
- The Presentation of Symptoms
Girls often exhibit less overt symptoms, such as inattentiveness, as opposed to the hyperactivity frequently seen in boys. This subtlety in symptom presentation contributes to them being overlooked.
- Stereotyping and Societal Expectations
Cultural stereotypes often contribute to overlooking ADHD symptoms in girls. The general perception is that girls are more organized and better at multitasking, which can lead to a failure to recognize symptoms. Similarly, inattentiveness can be seen as simply being “aloof,” which is a common stereotype about young girls, and – if there is poor academic performance – this may be blamed on additional gender stereotypes.
- Educational Settings
ADHD is not solely diagnosed as a result of performance in school, but it is frequently one of the first places that it is brought to the attention of parents and school counselors. In school environments, boys often display disruptive behaviors that get noticed, leading to referrals and, eventually, diagnoses. Girls may not manifest these disruptive behaviors, thus allowing the ADHD to go unnoticed.
These are only a few of the many possible reasons that ADHD is underdiagnosed in girls and young women.
Consequences of Underdiagnosis
Underdiagnosis is a problem. It is even more so a problem among women of color, who may already be under-diagnosed due to racial biases and access to therapy and medical support. That underdiagnosis can affect girls and young women for the rest of their lives, even if the ADHD is caught at a later date.
Without timely diagnosis and treatment, girls can struggle academically, affecting their confidence and aspirations for the future. Underdiagnosed ADHD can also lead to secondary issues like anxiety and depression, creating a complex web of mental health challenges.
Parent Advocates and ADHD Treatment
Parents should remain educated on ADHD presentation, especially in young girls. In addition, when ADHD is suspected, it is a good idea to reach out for help. Early treatment means earlier results and management.
The underdiagnosis of ADHD in young girls is a pressing concern that requires immediate action. From revising diagnostic criteria to training educators and informing parents, multi-pronged approaches are necessary to close the gender gap in ADHD diagnosis. Early identification and intervention are vital, not only for managing ADHD symptoms but also for preventing secondary issues like academic struggles and mental health concerns.
For help managing the mental health symptoms associated with ADHD, contact Long Island Counseling Services.