ADHD Diagnosis is Genderized

When someone mentions Attention Deficient Hyperactive Disorder (or ADHD), which of these come to mind?

A.    Hyperactive elementary school boys

B.     Inattentive adult women

Based on the general notions about ADHD, I would not be surprised if you picked the first one. While the hyperactive symptoms may be easier to pick up on, they are not the only symptoms of ADHD. Those who don’t exhibit hyperactive symptoms may find themselves being diagnosed much later in life or not at all. This discrepancy most often affects girls and women who, due to societal expectations and a lack of female representation in studies, end up getting the short end of the stick.

Aside from the differing symptoms of ADHD, much of the research on the disorder is focused on boys. An analysis of ADHD brain imaging studies showed that half of the studies contained only male brain scans while, across all studies, only 20% were female. In addition, in cases that were seen as equally severe in boys and girls, the boys were more likely to be referred for treatment. One speculation from researchers is that this is because boys’ educations is often valued over that of girls, so adults may have a greater sense of urgency to get them treatment. Girls tend to show the more inattentive type of ADHD, which includes disorganization and forgetfulness. They can develop symptoms later than usual, most often into their teenage years and early adulthood. This coupled with society’s stereotype that girls are flighty and air-headed can make it a real battle to get taken seriously.

 

Despite being officially diagnosed when I was in 9th grade, my ADHD was never really taken seriously. This seems to be, in part, due to the fact that I was in a lot of honors and AP classes and doing relatively well in them. “But you’re too smart to have ADHD!” people would say. They would ignore the fact that I always was misplacing or forgetting something, and that I was always a complete mess and never could concentrate on something for very long. I couldn’t even sit through a 2 hour movie. But, to the world, I was smart and smart people don’t have ADHD. So, nothing was done and I suffered silently all throughout high school, making excessive lists in futile attempt to help myself.

The fact that I might have ADHD finally became apparent after my dad was diagnosed with it in his 50s. He had the inattentive type, which is probably why he was diagnosed so late. At that point, my parents considered that I may have it as well, based on the fact that my father and I behaved exactly the same. The turning point came when I stumbled across this article and, when I read it to my mom, everything clicked and she finally believed me. However, my doctor didn’t. Even though my chart said that I had the disorder, she wouldn’t give me any ADHD medicine. I’m still fighting today to get properly medicated.

While medication is not a cure-all, it can help a person regain functionality, which so many people desperately need. But, the fact that doctors often refuse to listen and take seriously the concerns of women is a major hindrance to those who need assistance.