Girls get ADHD, too

The may not be as rowdy, but a surprising long-term study shows that girls are just as much at risk as boys for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Published July 12, 2006 6:34PM (EDT)

What with all the furor these days over whether females outperform males at school, it's interesting to note that there's one way that boys and girls are equal in the classroom: Both genders can get attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. A story in Tuesday's Washington Post debunks the long-held perception that elementary-school girls are less likely than boys to suffer from the condition; girls may be less disruptive in class or less frenzied on the playground, but they get ADHD, too, and their symptoms are just as serious.

Research on the disorder traditionally has focused on boys. But a recent federally funded study, in which researchers at the University of California at Berkeley tracked 200 girls ages 6 to 12 over five years, found that girls with ADHD are at increased risk for substance abuse, emotional difficulties and academic problems during their teen years.

Lead researcher Stephen Hinshaw, chairman of the psychology department at the University of California at Berkeley, which did the study, said the results were "surprising and discouraging" because of the "breadth of impairment" they observed in the 140 girls who had ADHD compared with the 88 who did not, according to the Post. The girls with the disorder, which is marked by inattention and impulsivity, were more likely to perform poorly in school, be depressed, develop eating disorders, have troubled relationships and have bad organizational skills than their peers in the control group. Another recent study, by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, confirmed that teen girls with ADHD were at risk for depression or anxiety.

Now here's some good news. Girls responded as well as boys to treatment (usually Ritalin and Adderall paired with behavioral therapy) and showed fewer symptoms as they got older. But Hinshaw urges that girls get more specialized attention. "Girls have a different way of relating and deserve study in their own right," Hinshaw told the Post. "This is not a short-term disorder."

At least now it's backed by a long-term study.

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at

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