One of the few long-term studies devoted to following girls with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder shows that girls with the diagnosis tend to have psychiatric and social problems in adolescence, including substance abuse, eating disorders, social problems with peers, and poor academic performance.
“The chief conclusion is that ADHD in girls portends continuing problems that are of substantial magnitude,” concludes the report, published in the June issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association. The lead researcher was Stephen P. Hinshaw, the chairman of the psychology department at the University of California, Berkeley, and a longtime researcher in the field of attention deficit disorder.
The study followed 209 girls ages 11 to 18 with and without ADHD diagnoses. They had already participated in an earlier study of Mr. Hinshaw’s that was published in 2002, when the girls were ages 6 to 12.
The study tracked an ethnically diverse group: 53 percent of the girls are white, while 27 percent are black, 11 percent Hispanic, and 9 percent Asian American.
The study shows that, as with boys, many girls who had hyperactive or impulsive symptoms when they were younger lost those symptoms as they grew older.
However, despite the lack of outward disruptive symptoms, girls with ADHD still showed markedly poorer outcomes in many areas compared with their peers who were not diagnosed with the disorder. Many reported high levels of peer rejection on the follow-up assessment, and there were also large deficits in academic performance compared with their peers without ADHD.
“These findings indicate that ADHD in girls is a problem of real importance; services may well be required in most instances,” the report says.
Boys Studied More on ADHD
The study also notes that most research on ADHD has been conducted on groups of boys. The report’s authors point out that a recent survey of research on ADHD in girls turned up only six small studies, with a combined sample of just 102 girls with ADHD and 79 girls without. The sample sizes were so small in those studies that it is nearly impossible to conduct useful analysis, the report says.
According to Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, an advocacy group based in Landover, Md., studies have shown that for every three boys diagnosed with ADHD, there is at least one girl who has the disorder. Attention deficit disorder can manifest itself in two ways: hyperactivity or impulsiveness, or inattentiveness. Some children have both symptoms at the same time.
“It appears that girls are often overlooked because they tend to have … predominantly inattentive type more often than the combined type,” according to an information sheet from the organization. “This means that girls with [ADHD] are less likely to be recognized as having [ADHD] because often they are not being disruptive enough to call attention to themselves.”