Girls affected by ADHD often overlooked

Monday, June 27, 2011

"They called me Sugar Rush in middle school, because I was so hyper," recalls a local teen.

Learning is a year-round process for 16-year-old Olivia McQuiggan, a student at Conestoga High School.

Although she loves it, it can be a challenge because she has ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Her mother noticed signs early on.

"She talked continually, always seeming to be the person in the class who laughed the loudest, laughed the longest, says Maureen McQuiggan.

Another key sign was difficulty staying focused.

Olivia says, "There are times in the middle of a test when i feel like scribbling on my paper, or daydreaming."

Her mother adds," In the same class, one test would be a 99 or a 98, and then the next one would be a 45."

"She made what we used to call "kick me" mistakes. She was always in the advanced math class, but she'd add 1 + 1 and put down 3," she says.

Maureen says the mistakes frustrating for her, for Olivia, and for the teacher.

Olivia was diagnosed and is being treated, but all too often, girls with ADHD are missed.

While boys with ADHD can be boisterous and draw attention to themselves, affected girls often show the opposite behavior, and withdraw.

Patricia Quinn, Ph.D., says, "Girls start not feeling as smart as other people, feeling that they can't accomplish what other people can. They feel very overwhelmed."

Dr. Quinn specializes in treating girls and women with ADD. She has ADD, and 3 of her 4 children have it as well.

In girls with ADD, she says gthat feeling of being overwhelmed often leads to anxiety, depression, social problems, and a troubled adolescence.

"A lot more risk-taking behaviors, substance abuse disorders, cigarette smoking, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases," she notes.

Dr. Quinn says the effects of unrecognized ADHD can affect girls and women throughout adulthood,"snowballing" as she describes it.

She and other experts say about 4 million American women have undiagnosed ADD.

"As adults, these are the real "Desperate Housewives," never feeling like they are in control of their life, their families, or their households.

She says they struggle even more to keep up with housework, child-rearing, and their careers. And it contributes to obesity, eating disorders, and other mental health issues.

Dr. Quinn says, "some of them develope perfectionistic or almost obsessive-compulsive traits trying to compensate for their ADD or ADHD. We had one little girl who lined up her shoes because she could never find her shoes."

Olivia is doing well on medication and with extra help at school.

This year, she got mostly A's in advanced placement and honors courses, including English, U-S history, and psychology. This summer, she will be preparing for advanced placement courses in calculus and physics. She has already set more goals for herself.

"I want to go to college, and major in math, and then architecture," she says with calm determination.

Experts say girls should be screening for ADHD is they seem to be bright, but aren't performing well in school or socially.

And those parents should be screened, too.

"We see an amazing number of parents who have undiagnosed ADHD," says Dr. Quinn.

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