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Misunderstood: Supporting Girls and Women with ADHD

by SOAR Marketing

The rate of ADHD has more than doubled since the 1980s. The dramatic rise has been attributed to such factors as greater access to ADHD education, psychiatric approaches, and patient advocacy groups. Though the contemporary classification of ADHD wasn’t added to the DSM until 1968, references to it have occurred for centuries. From examples of extreme distraction provided by Scottish physician Sir Alexander Crichton in 1798 and the creation of “Fidgety Phil” in 1844 by German physician Heinrich Hoffman to lectures on impulse control in the 1900s and treatment of hyperactivity in the 1930s– ADHD has been a conversation.

Despite its widespread acceptance in many mainstream medical communities, one massive portion of the population has been widely left out of that conversation, girls and women. This is not unique to ADHD diagnoses. Historically males have been the default medical subject, this gender gap has had significant ramifications for female health outcomes. A common example of this discrepancy is cardiovascular disease–though the number one cause of mortality in females, only 31% of clinical trials include women. This gender bias extends even to the animal kingdom, with male animals being predominantly used in laboratory settings over females.

In addition to lack of female specific research, there is a rising occurrence of depression in female adolescents. Approximately “1 in 3 high school girls have considered suicide” a 60% rise in the last decade. Coupled with behavioral challenges, girls and young women deserve thoughtful and intentional support. Correctly identifying and uplifting girls with ADHD is an important component to fostering their overall well-being. We’ve created a guide to educate on challenges of this population as well as ways to help support and celebrate this neurodiverse community:

4 Resources to Support Girls and Women Today:

  1. ADHD presents itself differently in males vs. females. According to the CDC, the prevalence of ADHD in the United States is 13% among boys and 6% among females.  Despite these statistics, ADHD is widely believed to be just as present in females as males, but the two groups present symptoms in different ways. Girls are less likely to present “disruptive external symptoms” of ADHD, and are also influenced by cultural and societal expectations. Visit the Duke Center for Women and Girls with ADHD and read this article on “42 Years of Research on ADHD in Females” for more information.
  2. Challenges in adolescents often extend into adulthood. Listen to this free recording of the Conference on ADHD 2022, where organizing and productivity specialist Dr. Lark explores the connection between women, emotional labor, and executive function. Want more? Here is a CHADD podcast episode about Women in Midlife and ADHD.
  3. Comorbidity is common in youth with ADHD. It is estimated that around 60%–100% of children with ADHD also exhibit one or more comorbid disorders that often continue into adulthoodDepression is five times more common in youth with ADHD than without. Read more about the mental health crisis in young girls here and how you can identify depression in women.
  4. A holistic approach to ADHD is often the most effective. Recommended by SOAR’s own Dr. Liz Simpson, this zoom hosted by Dr. Peter Gray presents research explaining how increased school pressure combined with the decline in opportunities for self-chosen, self-directed activities impacts children’s mental health. Dr. Gray is researcher and author of “Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life.”

Navigating childhood and adolescence can be daunting. At SOAR we focus on providing programs that build self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-reliance. Through adventure activities we support and celebrate our ADHD/LD communities. We believe that focusing on an individual’s strengths, rather than their deficits, is the key to their success! For more about our approach, programs, and resources, email us at admissions@soarnc.org or give us a call at 828-456-3435

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