It’s Different For Girls — What I Learned About My Daughter’s ADHD Diagnosis
BY GLYNIS RADCLIFFE
Photo © Pinningnarwhals/Twenty20
Jun 5, 2019
Starting at about three years of age, my daughter would go through these short bursts of activity that made her appear to have a motor. Instead of sitting at a table to eat a snack or dinner, she would hold her food in her hands and walk the perimeter of the rug our table was on. Around and around and around and around.
My husband and I watched her with a strange fascination. Neither of us were like that as kids.
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These were the only major bursts of energy our daughter seemed to have, so we didn’t dwell on it. Kids are weird; shrug your shoulders and move on, right? Then we noticed the fidgeting. She was able to stay in her seat, but she wiggled in it the entire time, moving her bum around in the seat to get more comfortable, itching her back, playing with her hair, snuggling closer to one of us.
Again, we were aware her experience differed from our own, but when we checked in with her kindergarten teachers, they insisted she was well within the normal range of “active” children. Kids shouldn’t be required to sit and concentrate for long periods of time at four and five years of age, so we let it be.
The “Attention Deficit” part of ADHD
As parents, we often spend time talking with other parents about our children’s symptoms before going to a doctor. We rely on anecdotal evidence from friends regarding what behaviour is disruptive and what is “kids being kids”— I think my child talks excessively, but then I hear from other parents how normal that is, and how their kids don’t shut up. Don’t all kids interrupt their siblings when they’re talking? Of course they do, don’t worry about it.
The Canadian Paediatric Society states, “ADHD remains challenging to diagnose because specific biomarkers and symptom specificity are lacking.” Obviously none of us wants to pathologize our kids unnecessarily, but when the array of symptoms is an intensification of normal behaviours, we need to leave it to the professionals.
My daughter was halfway through Grade 1 when it finally became clear this was something outside the realm of normal. Her teacher requested an interview and told us about her inability to finish work while in class, in addition to problems focusing on group lessons. Despite multiple in-class interventions, she was still having problems that had begun to impact her academic performance as well as her self-esteem. It may seem silly to refer to a six-year-old’s academic performance, but when your child repeatedly calls herself dumb, it’s time to look into things further.
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Girls often fall through the diagnostic cracks because they’re more frequently found to have the inattentive subtype of ADHD. How that manifests is rarely disruptive, making it easier to overlook. In one meta analysis from 2014, researchers found that “girls with ADHD have a distinct symptom presentation, with internalizing symptoms (eg, inattentiveness) being more prominent than externalizing symptoms (eg, impulsiveness and hyperactivity).”
It’s not even as simple as being a daydreamer; my daughter often describes how she can start writing in class and become distracted by her pencil moving. It can also manifest as problems maintaining friendships, or obsessively picking at nails or clothing, or acting especially silly.
Again, the problem we run into is that all of these traits can be, and are, within the realm of “normal” behaviour for children. Rushing to diagnose our children is not at all what I’m advocating. No kid needs the stigma of an early mental health label if it’s not going to be of significant benefit, and if that kid is managing in school, why rock the boat?
What I’m here to say is if your child — especially if female — is struggling but isn’t hyperactive, there’s more to the condition than that, and it’s ok to start looking for answers. Those answers, whatever they may be, will help everyone to better deal with your child’s challenges.