Gender & ADD

Not being able to focus made me feel like I’d failed at being a girl…in a world predisposed to undermining women, not having your shit together can feel like a dereliction of feminine duty.

–Rae Jacobson

ADD and Gender Roles:

Gender roles and expectations affect how individuals with AD/HD are perceived by others–especially for women. Writing for New York magazine, Rae Jacobson captured why the experience of having ADD.  For more information on Mastering Supervision, click here.

and being female at the same time is so problematic in American society: while all adults with ADD may struggle with staying organized and being on time, Jacobson explains that “not being able to focus made me feel like I’d failed at being a girl…in a world predisposed to undermining women, not having your shit together can feel like a dereliction of feminine duty.” Then, Jacobson says, “there’s the sexist skepticism: She’s just a ditz.” 

Gender Differences in ADD Diagnosis and Comorbidities 

Although most ADD research has focused on boys, we now know that ADD affects boys and girls, and men and women differently.  According to a 2002 study, “girls with ADHD were more likely than boys to have the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD, less likely to have a learning disability, and less likely to manifest problems in school or in their spare time.”

Because their symptoms are often different compared to boys with ADD, girls may not get properly diagnosed. Girls may exhibit more inattentiveness, whereas boys may exhibit more hyperactivity and impulsivity, which often lead to an ADD diagnosis. According to psychologist Kathleen Nadeau, PhD, girls’ ADD may be overlooked because their symptoms don’t look like ADD symptoms in boys.

Girls with ADD may also be overlooked or misdiagnosed because they are more likely to develop certain comorbidities, or co-existing mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety. Researcher Dr. Patricia Quinn reported in 2008 that girls with ADD are 5.4 times more likely to be diagnosed with major depression compared to boys. This can increase the likelihood that girls’ ADD will be misdiagnosed and inadequately treated.

ADD, Self-Harm and Sexual Violence 

Several studies have also found a link between ADD and risk of suicide and self-harm among women. A 2012 study found that girls with ADD, especially those with the “combined” type of ADHD, are much more likely to attempt suicide or harm themselves compared to girls without the disorder. The results of a study published the following year supported these findings: researchers found that young women who had been diagnosed with ADHD-Combined type had the greatest risk for suicide attempts and the most severe forms of self-injury (i.e. cutting, burning) compared to those diagnosed with a predominantly inattentive type of ADD and women in a comparison group. The researchers concluded that ADD among women “carries high risk for self-harm.”

A study published in early 2015 found that in young women, childhood ADD is an important predictor of intimate partner violence. In late 2015, Jamie A. Snyder, a professor of criminal justice, reported that college women with AD/HD “experienced sexual victimization at significantly higher rates” compared to college women without ADD, and that the disorder itself was a predictor of sexual victimization.

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