As a child, I was incredibly spacey and disorganized, so it’s a wonder that I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was 17 years old. At family gatherings, my mom would often share a classic anecdote about me which, we now realize, probably should have served as a major red flag. When I was in second grade, I failed my first test. My mom was especially disconcerted about this because of the fact that it was a measuring test, where literally the only task was to measure stuff with a plastic ruler and record the inches. When my mom asked me what went wrong, I said I didn’t know I was supposed to use a ruler because I never read the directions. “No wonder it was such a hard test!” I exclaimed.
After my diagnosis, articles like this from NPR about the sudden surge in the amount of women being diagnosed with ADHD, particularly resonated with me. The woman featured in the article, Diany Levy, has a story very similar to my own. She was considered lazy and unfocused as a kid, taking four times longer than her classmates to complete assigned readings (even as a vivacious reader, my Kindle still classifies me at “learning speed”) and she couldn’t sit through a two-hour lecture without getting up and moving around. Unfortunately for Levy, she wasn’t diagnosed until she was 23 years old, meaning she had to spend all of high school and college suffering through an untreated disorder.
You’ve probably heard about the increasing amount of people being diagnosed and medicated for ADHD. Some speculate it’s due to overdiagnosis, while others claim increased awareness. Neither explanation can account for the fact that the biggest spike in ADHD medication is among young women between ages of 19 and 34. According to a recent report, the number of women taking these medications between 19 and 25 is also 27% higher than girls between ages 4 and 18.
Since ADHD begins in childhood and occurs equally between boys and girls, why is it that boys are diagnosed with this disorder at more than twice the rate of girls? According to Dr. Leonard Adler of the adult ADHD program at NYU Langone Medical Center, boys are more likely to be fidgety and restless, since “they’re easily bored and do things that they are not supposed to be doing,” he explains. A professor of child and adolescent psychology, Adler says that these behavioral problems are difficult to miss in boys, but in girls the symptoms are quieter and harder to spot.
Hmmmm… I wonder, why is it that girls are less likely to exhibit signs of ADHD as children? Is it a coincidence that the typical traits associated with ADHD, such as restlessness, impulsive/disruptive behavior and a short attention span, are allowed to persist (and maybe even encouraged) in young boys as “boys will be boys,” yet strongly discouraged in young girls, who are expected to be quiet, attentive, and respectful? Yeah… I didn’t think so. Because of the societal expectations placed on young girls, it’s safe to say that those who possess ADHD are not displaying the characteristic symptoms of the disorder (at least not to the extent that doctors are looking for) until later in life, once coping with it becomes more difficult.
These days “gender typing” seems to be a more and more popular topic of conversation. In my opinion, once these traditional social expectations begin impeding on doctors' ability to properly diagnose mental disorders, it is safe to say that we can no longer just talk about the problem. Something needs to be done.