By GreatSchools Staff
Mrs. Dawson's fourth-grade students assemble in small groups to work on a project. She asks Steven and Julie to join three other students. A mother helping in the classroom notices Steven is better behaved than during her last visit. While he still wriggles in his seat and occasionally interrupts a classmate, he doesn't pound his desk and talk non-stop like he used to. He also smiles now and is more cooperative. Julie is her usual chatty, polite self. She smiles and waves her hands as she talks to the group. Today, though, the other girls in the group seem annoyed with Julie. When the group session is over, Steven sits attentively at his desk in the front of the classroom. Julie's smile has faded and she stares out the window.
What's going on with Steven and Julie? Steven was diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) four months ago. His teacher has made classroom accommodations, such as allowing him to sit up front where he'll be less distracted. He's taking medication and being coached on his behavior. His self-esteem grows as he succeeds in his school work and relationships.
What no one knows is that Julie also has AD/HD. She struggles to please others, but they don't seem to understand her friendly overtures. Determined to be a good student, she spends hours on homework because daydreams get in the way. Her self-esteem is sinking as she questions her academic and social abilities. Julie suffers in silence.
Many people think of AD/HD as a boy's disorder. In fact, some studies estimate at least six times as many boys as girls are referred to clinics for diagnosis. But field studies suggest that, in the general population, the actual ratio of boys to girls with AD/HD is 3:1. To understand why this disparity exists, we must understand how professionals have traditionally defined and diagnosed AD/HD - and how that view is changing. For many years, hyperactive and impulsive behavior was considered the primary trait of children with AD/HD. Since many more boys than girls fit that description, they've been much easier to diagnose and treat. This also explains why most AD/HD studies have focused on boys. Then in the 1980's, researchers discovered a population of boys who were inattentive but not hyperactive or impulsive. With this discovery, the definition of AD/HD was updated and now includes 3 different types:
The inattentive type of AD/HD is harder to diagnose in both boys and girls since their behavior doesn't "give them away." Bright, inattentive girls often compensate for inattention by becoming super-organized or hyper-focused on school work. Such girls often succeed in school, but their private struggle remains a secret.
Girls who are hyperactive and impulsive are rare. Some hyperactive girls are seen as tomboys and have a better chance of being diagnosed. Other hyperactive girls aren't overactive in a physical sense; instead, they're super-talkative "social butterflies."
Having AD/HD seems to impair girls' social relationships far more than it does for boys. As Janet Giler, Ph.D., points out, "Males and females, in general, operate by different social rules...Female social rules place a greater value on cooperation, listening, care-taking, and relationship maintaining activities ...It would make sense that the traits of AD/HD might make females seem less cooperative." As a result, girls with AD/HD suffer more peer rejection.
Remember Julie? While friendly and well-meaning, she often gets distracted while a classmate is talking to her. She misses the other person's social cues, and doesn't respond in a desirable manner. Boys tend to be more direct with each other and resolve their conflicts more openly, so a boy with AD/HD doesn't require the same set of social skills. A girl who is both impulsive and inattentive is likely to commit many social blunders.
Mothers often expect their daughters to conform to the standards of society by being especially thoughtful, polite and compliant. If a girl has AD/HD, this can be a difficult goal to attain.
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