Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a usual condition that influences brain development that affects children and adolescents. It is characterised by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity symptoms that interfere with daily functioning and development. ADHD can affect both boys and girls, but there are some gender differences in how it manifests and is diagnosed and treated.
Boys are more likely to get an ADHD diagnosis than girls because they often display more outward behaviours like aggression, defiance and disruptiveness. These behaviours are more noticeable and problematic in school and social settings and may prompt parents and teachers to seek professional help. On the other hand, girls may show more internalising behaviours such as anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. These behaviours are less visible and may be overlooked or misinterpreted as personality traits or mood swings.
Boys with ADHD may also have more difficulties with executive functions, such as planning, organising, prioritising and self-regulating. These skills are essential for academic success and life management but are often impaired in children with ADHD. Boys may struggle more with completing homework, following instructions, keeping track of time and belongings, and staying focused on tasks. Girls with ADHD may have better verbal and social skills than boys, which may help them compensate for their executive function deficits and mask their symptoms.
Another gender difference in ADHD is the co-occurrence of other mental health conditions. Boys with ADHD have a higher chance of having conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, learning disabilities and substance use disorders. Girls with ADHD can be more likely to have anxiety disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders and self-harm behaviours. These co-existing conditions can complicate the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD and may require a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach.
The treatment of ADHD in boys and girls is similar in many aspects. Still, some considerations need to be taken into account. Medication is the most widely used and successful treatment for ADHD. Still, it may have different effects and side effects depending on the gender of the child. Stimulants are the first-line medication for ADHD, but they may cause more appetite suppression, weight loss and growth delay in boys than in girls. Non-stimulants are another option for ADHD medication, but they may cause more sedation, fatigue and mood changes in girls than in boys.
Behavioural therapy is another essential component of ADHD treatment, especially for children with co-existing conditions or who do not respond well to medication. Behavioural therapy involves teaching children skills to cope with their symptoms, improve their self-esteem and social relationships, and reduce their negative behaviours. Parents and teachers can also play a key role in supporting children with ADHD by providing structure, consistency, positive reinforcement and clear expectations.
ADHD is a nuanced and heterogeneous condition affecting both sexes differently. It is essential to recognise the gender differences in ADHD symptoms, diagnosis and treatment and to tailor the intervention to each child’s specific needs. By doing so, we can help children with ADHD reach their full potential and live fulfilling lives.
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