ADD in Women

(c) 1998, Nick Holland

Common wisdom is that ADD is more prevalent in men and boys than in women and girls.  From my observations, this is false.  I suspect that while men and boys are diagnosed and treated, women and girls are stereotyped and subjected to lower expectations.  I speculate that many of the behavioral traits which are often attributed to "Blondes" are more accurately described as ADD.  Think about it...  What in a boy could be called ADD, in a girl could be called "ditzy".

Older literature cites a male to female ratio for ADD of 20 to 1.  More recent literature says 10 to 1 or 7 to 1.  At a seminar I was at recently, the psychiatrist who was conducting it used the ratio 3 to 1.  Obviously, more women are being found with the condition.  I suggested to this so-called expert that ADD might actually just be undiagnosed in women, and he looked at me like I had purple skin, and just tried to assure him this was normal.

Now, be assured that anecdotes are not evidence or proof (except in court, it seems), however, I wish to give you a case story.  A few months after I realized I was ADD, I met a woman who was very clearly ADD.  In addition to the problems I had, she was also very hyperactive.  For various reasons, she had actually even been to a psychiatrist and a number of doctors, none of which had managed to notice what I saw was very obvious: she was hyperactive ADD, and in talking with her, it had significantly impacted her life.  The doctors had a grand time blaming hormones, her rather troubled marriage, and anything else they could think of, but all the while missing the incredibly obvious diagnosis.  In fact, I would rather guess her ADD contributed to her marriage troubles than her marriage troubles contributed to her ADD-like symptoms.

It has been documented in the past that teachers are far less likely to offer special help a girl who is struggling in Math or Science than a boy who is having the same trouble.  There is still a stereotype left in the back of people's mind that a boy will grow to be a man who must have a career, where as a girl who has trouble in school can always fall back on being an excellent wife and mother.  So, a girl having trouble in school will be allowed to underachieve, whereas a boy will be pushed to achieve in any way possible.  Studies have tried to prove differences in the way male vs. female brains "work", and while I won't deny that is a possibility, I suspect that only "normal" people of each population were tested (a sound research practice), which means ADD and other "learning disabled" males were probably rejected.  Which means that women who SHOULD have been categorized as Learning Disabled but weren't "contaminate" the female population, lowering the overall results, and thus, our expectations.  Note carefully that this is speculation on my part, however it is speculation that I consider healthy whenever examining anything that people are trying to prove via statistical techniques.

A point I try to make is even if a statistical variation can be proven between groups, it is normally quite irrelevant.  You don't often interact with entire groups, normally, you interact with individuals.  Knowing a fact about a group doesn't help you know much, if anything, about an individual.  The fact is, many women have ADD, and no one denies that.  I contend that we are -- and must stop! -- rejecting the ADD diagnosis in women before the symptoms are even considered!

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