Girls with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may not have the same classroom-disrupting symptoms as their male counterparts, but they often suffer from a variety of social and academic problems that bear close attention, according to one of the few long-term studies devoted to following girls with ADHD.
“What we were surprised about was the breadth of [such girls’] problems in adolescence,” said Stephen P. Hinshaw, the lead researcher and the chairman of the psychology department at the University of California, Berkeley. A report on the study was published in the June issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association.
The study of 209 girls ages 11 to 18 found that girls with ADHD had higher rates of depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, poor academic performance, and social problems with peers than girls without the disorder.
“When girls are rejected by their peers for ADHD, it can be even more devastating for them than it is for boys,” Mr. Hinshaw said in an interview.
The girls in the study had participated in an earlier research project led by Mr. Hinshaw when they were 6 to 12 years old. The researcher said he intentionally wanted to track an ethnically diverse group: Fifty-three percent of the girls are white, while 27 percent are black, 11 percent Latina, and 9 percent Asian-American. Their families’ incomes also range widely, Mr. Hinshaw said.
The report notes that most of the research on ADHD has been conducted on groups of boys. The authors say 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 in those studies are so small that it is nearly impossible to conduct a useful analysis of them, the report says.
It is believed that three boys are affected by ADHD for every girl, Mr. Hinshaw said. In addition, girls tend to manifest symptoms of ADHD by being inattentive, rather than hyperactive, he said. However, he said, girls are still in need of services, including good management of medications and behavioral counseling.
Mr. Hinshaw plans to re-evaluate the same group of girls when they are 17 to 22. One of the most important questions to ask then, he said, will be what factors helped some of the girls break out of the negative track seen in adolescence.
Kathleen G. Nadeau, the director of the Chesapeake ADHD Center of Maryland in Silver Spring, Md., and one of the authors of the book Understanding Girls With ADHD, said Mr. Hinshaw’s work represents an exciting advance. For too long, girls with ADHD have been overlooked in research, she said.
“Just because it’s not as troubling to others does not mean it’s not just as troubling a disorder,” she said.
A version of this article appeared in the July 26, 2006 edition of Education Week