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Why ADHD Diagnosis is Unfair Towards Women

By: Lucy Tiven 1/26/16

ADD Women Lacking Hyperactivity are Often Misdiagnosed

The ADHD phenomenon is typically equated with hyperactive young boys. Because girls and adult women are much less hyper than males they are often misdiagnosed and improperly treated, according to a recent study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

ADHD looks different in women: Boys are most often diagnosed with ADHD before the age of seven due to their energetic, aggressive, fidgety, and distracting behavior in the classroom. However, recent studies have verified what clinicians have reported for years. Females with ADD/ADHD manifest disorganization and inattentiveness more often than hyperactivity. They often internalize their frustrations and experience self-esteem issues, eating disorders, depression, anxiety and engage in emotionally abusive relationships.

Although the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria were revised in 2013 to account for the differences between male and female symptoms, misconceptions continue to lag behind and so diagnostic errors still persist.

According to Dr. Harold Levinson, it was mistakenly believed for years that the male/female genetic incidence of dyslexia was as high as 10/1. “My initial studies demonstrated that the later a proper diagnosis was made, the higher the ratios became.  And when properly screened and treated by first grade, the ratios were slightly above 1/1.

I postulated that males are genetically more aggressive than females and tend to act-out more when frustrated. Thus males are more easily recognized and require more urgent treatment to satisfy schools and parents. Since dyslexia and ADHD very often co-exist, males will tend to exhibit greater degrees of hyperactivity, impulsivity and aggression. Moreover, years ago the bias that males need to succeed more than females added fuel to male frustrations and failures.  And because young girls appeared better predisposed to internalize their frustrations, they were initially less disorganized by them. Thus girls were diagnosed later, unless the severity of their disorders was significant.”

“All to often, the dyslexic or ADD symptoms in girls would intensify during puberty while boys of similar ages were compensating.” These observations were supported by a recent study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology indicating that girls with ADHD are particularly prone to self-injury and suicide during teenage years. They are even at between four and five times greater risk for suicide than girls without ADHD.

About Dr. Harold Levinson
Formerly Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at New York University Medical Center, Dr. Harold Levinson is currently Director of the Levinson Medical Center for Learning Disabilities in Long Island, New York. He is a well-known neuropsychiatrist, clinical researcher and author. For more information, call 1(800)334-7323 or

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography/

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