Gender disparity with ADHD
The words “attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder” may conjure images of a distracted, overly energetic little boy, but such preconceptions are often mistaken and can seriously mislead.
Two recent papers in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology suggest that clinicians sometimes don’t recognize the symptoms of ADHD when they show up in girls and adolescents. A boy is twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD as a girl with the same symptoms, even if he doesn’t fit all the diagnostic criteria. While there is a true gender disparity in the occurrence of ADHD, it is exaggerated by practitioners, says Stephen Hinshaw, a psychologist at the University of California-Berkeley.
Diagnosing ADHD in adolescents is also tricky, since teenagers with the disorder are impulsive, inattentive and disorganized – but not necessarily hyperactive, explains Margaret Sibley, a psychologist at Florida International University. Different symptoms do not mean fewer problems. A 16-year-old girl who runs stop signs and can never find her homework might not be a rebel – she could just have ADHD.
Stimulant drugs, behavior therapy, and a combo of the two can all be effective in treating ADHD, but behavior therapy is crucial for long-term success. Three primary stakeholders need to be on board:
Families: Parents create structure by ignoring minor annoyances like fidgeting and encouraging good behavior through point systems and contracts (“you finish your homework, I’ll leave you alone to watch TV”).
Schools: Clinicians work with teachers to inculcate behaviors to which ADHD students aspire (e.g., staying in their seats). Games that involve the whole class – whichever side of the room is the best-behaved wins – take the focus off a single problem child.
Patients: Kids often show major improvement in behavior after residential summer programs that simulate school and social settings but enforce a rigid point system that rewards following directions and staying on task.
Think about this
Why is it so hard to locate something we’ve misplaced? A study from the University of Waterloo finds that when we’re rushing, we often see what we’re looking for, pick it up and then toss it aside without realizing it. Our perceptual attention cannot work as quickly as our hands do when digging through a purse or flipping through a stack of papers.
“Identification and movement are not coordinated,” explains cognitive neuroscientist Daniel Smilek. Here are three ways to force your perceptual and motor systems to get in sync so you can improve your performance when tracking something down:
1. Think out loud. “Perception often can’t keep up,” notes psychologist Grayden Solman, a study co-author. “It doesn’t know what’s been picked up before it moves on to something else.” Try naming everything you’re looking through – even just in your head – before rejecting it. Think: Here is my stapler, here are my pens, here are my ... keys!
2. Trust your gut. In the study, participants naturally slowed down when they selected the sought-after item – right before putting it aside. “There seems to be some unconscious recognition that they missed the target,” says Smilek. So if you just know your checkbook is in your desk, it’s probably worth taking a second peek.
3. Use all your senses. Pay attention to smells, textures and sounds “to help tease objects apart,” suggests Solman. Don’t rely only on your eyes. Hearing the jingle of keys or feeling the cold exterior of a smartphone can be just the jolt you need to realize what you’re looking at.
Compiled from News wire services