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UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 07 | April 5, 2001

Attention-deficit going undiagnosed, untreated, says student researcher

Current criteria may be overlooking hyperactive girls

by Bruce Mason staff writer

Research at UBC is revealing that many girls who suffer from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are not being diagnosed and treated.

"Between six and nine boys for every one girl are currently being referred to services for ADHD but studies indicate that the true ratio is closer to two or three boys to every girl," says Jeneva Ohan, a PhD student in Psychology.

She is conducting tests to identify ADHD behaviours in girls to improve assessment and treatment.

Ohan is also actively spreading the word in the community.

She will conduct a free public workshop on the current status of research, treatments and where to go for help on Tuesday, April 17, at 7 p.m. at the Richmond Cultural Centre.

The workshop is organized by the Richmond branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

ADHD, one of the most common psychiatric childhood disorders, is characterized by developmentally inappropriate levels of inattention including distraction and daydreams and/or hyperactive and impulsive behaviour such as having trouble staying seated or awaiting a turn.

Approximately five per cent of children meet the criteria for diagnosis. They often have a higher risk for failing and dropping out of school, adolescent parenthood, driving accidents and arrest.

"ADHD criteria may not identify how girls show these problems because criteria for diagnosis were developed based on research with mostly boys," says Ohan.

In a study designed with her supervisor Psychology Prof. Charlotte Johnston, mothers identified current criteria used to diagnose ADHD as more appropriate for boys and other inattentive and hyperactive behaviours not used in diagnosis as descriptive of girls.

For example, fidgeting or squirming is included as part of the criteria for ADHD, but whispering to classmates and doodling instead of doing work are not.

Girls with ADHD may also be receiving treatments that are more appropriate for boys.

"It is often difficult for ADHD boys to develop solid social relationships and given this information, effective treatment plans have been developed," Ohan says.

"We know social relationships are more important to girls but research has looked at interactions that are more typical of boys, such as physical aggression," she adds.

"Little is known about social interactions more typical of girls, such as forming tightly knit friendships."

Because social relationships differ, it makes sense that ADHD girls have different social strengths and weaknesses, says Ohan.

"We need to know what these are. It is crucial to identify children early so that we can help them develop to the best of their abilities."


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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