Years ago, with the start date of a new job closing in, I made the mistake of trying to explain my mounting panic to the guy I was dating at the time. “I’m so afraid of screwing up,” I told him, trying to keep my voice even, “with the ADHD stuff. I’ll forget something or get it wrong or …”
“Juuuuust chill out,” he interrupted, patting my knee in a fatherly sort of way. “You don’t have ADD. You’re just lazy.” His tone suggested this was a compliment. “Besides,” his smile widened, “isn’t that a little-boy thing?”
I wasn’t surprised by his reaction. Start talking about a disorder people can’t see and you learn to expect a certain amount of doubt, along with the occasional conspiracy theory involving drug companies, gluten, mass delusions, and other byproducts of this, our modern age. I understand (some) of where they’re coming from. ADHD, a chronic behavioral disorder, is complicated, confusing, and undeniably overdiagnosed.
If you’re female, the conversation is even more fraught. For decades ADHD was seen as a young boy’s disorder. New evidence suggests that it likely affects males and females equally, but that girls are far less likely to be diagnosed. For years the diagnosis ratio of males to females was 10:1. These days we’re looking at a slightly brighter 3:1.
One reason for the discrepancy is that, in girls, the disorder doesn’t always look the way we think it should: fidgety, energetic, distracting. In her book 100 Questions & Answers About Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dr. Patricia Quinn, one of the great gurus of women with ADHD, writes that girls tend to be less disruptive than boys, manifesting their lack of attention in subtler ways — disorganization, distraction, and difficulty following directions. Even more hyperactive girls are less likely to be noticed. Instead of bouncing off the walls, “A girl with ADHD may be hypertalkative or hyperreactive (crying a lot or slamming doors) — behaviors one may not typically think of as being associated with ADHD.” Then there’s the sexist skepticism: She’s just a ditz.
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