Special Education

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Girls and ADHD

Teachers may never suspect that those quiet girls who appear to be sitting attentively in their classes may really have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The image of a student with the disorder has typically been a rambunctious boy who disrupts class and can't stay still. But a new study shows there may be more girls with ADHD than teachers and parents realize.

Statistics show boys are more likely to have the disorder by a ratio of 3-to-1. But girls may be underdiagnosed, according to the study, published in the October issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

In what was one of the largest studies ever done on girls with ADHD, researchers examined 228 girls, including 140 diagnosed with the disorder. The girls with ADHD went off their medication for the study so researchers could monitor their behavior. All of the girls in the study attended six-week summer camps together in the San Francisco Bay area for three years in a row, starting in 1997.

Both sets of girls were recruited through newspaper ads offering "summer enrichment programs." Some ads said the programs were for girls with attention problems. Health-care providers recommended some of the girls for the study.

At camp, the girls participated in art, drama, and outdoor activities, but their "counselors" had notebooks and pencils. The camp staff, without knowing which girls had the diagnosis, took down extensive notes on their behavior.

Past research has shown both girls and boys with the disorder have difficulty focusing on tasks, meeting goals, and staying organized. But this study found that girls with ADHD have a harder time making friends than their male counterparts do.

Girls with ADHD may stand out from other girls because they are more likely to tease peers and act aggressively, the authors say.

Girls, they say, are more likely to have the "inattentive" type of the disorder. A student with that type of ADHD has disorganized, unfocused performance, rather than impulsive behavior.

Teachers and parents aren't as likely to recognize the "inattentive" type of ADHD, said Stephen Hinshaw, the lead author of the study and a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

"Our hope," Mr. Hinshaw said in a statement, "is that these efforts will spur the field towards theoretically rigorous attempts to understand ... ADHD in both boys and girls."

—Lisa Fine Goldstein

Vol. 22, Issue 7, Page 7

Published in Print: October 16, 2002, as Special Education

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