Annual Research Review: Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in girls and women: underrepresentation, longitudinal processes, and key directions
Hinshaw SP, Nguyen PT, O’Grady SM, Rosenthal EA.
J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2021 Jul 6.
Commentary* by Dr. Margaret Weiss: Steve Hinshaw’s program of research in girls and women with ADHD has demonstrated that although less ADHD in girls is less prevalent in the clinic, it is by no means benign.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – and its underlying behavioral dimensions of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity – have been understudied in females.
We first cover the conceptual issues of prevalence, diagnostic practices, diversity, comorbidity, and causal factors, plus forces limiting awareness of ADHD in females. After a narrative review of cross-sectional and longitudinal findings, we conclude the following.
(a) Girls meet diagnostic criteria for ADHD at just under half the rates of boys, a ratio that becomes much closer to equal by adulthood. (b) Girls and women with ADHD show a predominance of inattention and associated internalizing problems; boys and men display greater levels of hyperactive-impulsive symptoms and associated externalizing problems. (c) Sex differences in ADHD symptoms and related outcomes depend heavily on the clinical versus nonreferred nature of the samples under investigation. (d) Females with ADHD experience, on average, serious impairments, with a particularly heightened risk for problems in close relationships and engagement in self-harm. (e) Clinicians may overlook symptoms and impairments in females because of less overt (but still impairing) symptom manifestations in girls and women and their frequent adoption of compensatory strategies.
Our review of predictors and mediators of adult outcomes highlights (a) the potential for heterotypically continuous pathways in females with childhood ADHD and (b) developmental progressions to self-harm, intimate partner violence, unplanned pregnancy, and comorbid psychopathology.
Focusing on ADHD in females is necessary to characterize causal and maintaining mechanisms with accuracy and to foster responsive interventions, as highlighted in our closing list of clinical implications and research priorities.
* Abstracts are selected for their clinical relevance by Dr. Margaret Weiss, Director of Clinical Research, Child Psychiatry, Cambridge Health Alliance, Harvard University. Her commentary reflects her own opinion. It is not approved or necessarily representative of the CADDRA board.