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Gender in ADHD

2009 March 15
by dekman

I read the quote in rebecca’s post and got to thinking about the ways in which technology is used to empower people who could be considered disabled, but not physically.

One thing that came to mind for me was ADD/ADHD. According to, ADHD refers to a chronic disorder that initially manifests in childhood and is characterized by hyperactivity, impulsivity, and/or inattention. It is diagnosed roughly 5-10 times more often in boys than in girls, but is thought to be only actually only slightly more prevalent in men than in women (In sample tests, men were 1-2 times more likely to have ADD/ADHD than women.) Why the discrepancy? Boys are more likely to have hyperactivity than girls, and any kid who can’t sit still and is making a lot of noise is more likely to get noticed than a other kid who is quietly not paying attention. Girls also tend to be hyperactive in different ways, hyperactive boys tend to be fidgety and aggressive, whereas hyperactive girls often just talk a lot. Some people believe that guidelines for the diagnosis of ADHD are skewed more towards the ways boys display ADHD, which leads to fewer diagnosis for girls who need it.

The problems caused by ADHD can be vastly improved by relatively simple measures: organizational tools, counseling and drugs. But most of the ADHD drugs tests for children are done on white males, so it is unclear if those drugs are equally effective for children who aren’t white and male.

Technology can do a lot to help children and adults with ADD/ADHD, but many girls with ADHD are overlooked because of their gender. I wonder if this is also the case for some learning disabilities, or other behavioral disorders?

4 Responses
  1. Anne Dalke permalink*
    March 15, 2009

    Another way to think about these questions would be to look @ “disabilities” like ADHD as socially constructed. There’s a wonderful essay called Culture as Disability, first published in 1995 in an Anthropology and Education journal, which makes this point quite vividly. One of the clearest examples in the essay has to do with “learning disabilities” being created by school structures that value particular kinds of (focused, time-limited) learning. For every ‘ability’ that is valued by a culture, some concomitant ‘disability’ is created, which marks the failure to achieve.

  2. Aline permalink
    March 15, 2009

    Hi Dekman,

    I enjoyed your post on ADD/ADHD. I know that boys are usually diagonsed as having ADD/ADHD, but how many of them are misdiagonsed? I feel like there are a lot. Perhaps, just as many as girls who are not being diagonsed. What does it mean to be labeled as having ADD/ADHD? I feel like our culture likes to label children and adults with these two disablities. I wonder how common it is in other cultures? Also, what about people who do not believe in ADD/ADHD. I know there is a large group that believes too many kids are being drugged and that “boys will be boys.” I think all children express themselves differently, and that a lot are labeled as having ADD/ADHD, when they don’t. But then again, I am biased. My brother was labeled as ADD for years. My parents took him to doctor after doctor and they all categorized him as ADD and changed up his medicine. He was like a zombie everytime he took it. Finally, some specialist said he had been misdiagonsed and that he had a hearing processing disorder. He improved in school significantly, after seeing the specialist. I am not saying that everyone has to have some disability, but if you know that there is something wrong, it shouldn’t be that difficult to find out what is going on. We have all this advance technology, so why does it seem that doctors keep taking the easy way out and labeling hyperactive boys (mostly) and girls as ADD/ADHD?

  3. Baibh Cathba permalink
    March 16, 2009

    An interesting question, I was diagnosed with ADD (which is now universally known as ADHD) in high school, so I end up being overly controlling of my schedule in order to make up for the non-order in my mind. I never needed drugs for it, because it’s not the hyperactive body type, so I wasn’t “disruptive” in class. Was this a “mis-diagnosed” thing if I can control it better now, and it isn’t bad enough to need medication? Who knows. To be honest, it’s just another facet of my personality now.

    As a woman with ADD people often wait to see if I’m going to “spaz out” I’ve noticed. I think the preconceived idea of what ADD actually is also contributes to this. The fact that doctors now refer to all attentional issues in both genders as Attention Deficit HYPERACTIVE Disorder is really telling. It makes people believe we have a form of bodily turrets syndrome, where we flail and run around for no reason. I think as a society we are reluctant to put any but the most common labels for although we are a society where we value the “unique”, we also don’t want to be “too unique”. As such, I think we often end up with “disorders” that are unique to the culture because other cultures do not see the same behaviors in the same light.

    The article Anne directed us to is particularly interesting. It raises questions of what it means to have a “disability”. I think the interesting point is that if the person themselves does not consider it to be a disability, then is it a disability at all?

    In a relation to the Margaret Atwood book we are reading for class, is it possible that our narrator is “disabled” by being the only one who notices anything “wrong” with her society? By looking at her world through our own cultural lens, it is the society she is in that is wrong, but if we go by the majority vote (as we say we do since we’re a democracy) our heroine Gilead is the one in the wrong. So, basically, is this all just a point of view thing on gender and the technology of “disability”?

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