Girls with disorder 'overlooked'

THOUSANDS of girls who suffer from a recognised medical condition are going untreated and branded as problem children because teachers and health experts are failing to spot their symptoms.

Child psychologist Dr Svenny Kopp, a leading expert in the field of developmental disorders in children, has said that a lack of awareness of the prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among girls is damaging the lives of an untold number of young people.

It is estimated 3 per cent of Scots schoolgirls have the condition but only 0.5 per cent are diagnosed and receive the necessary treatment and support.

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ADHD manifests itself in many ways, but its main symptoms include hyperactivity, impulsiveness, lack of concentration and failure to follow instructions or complete tasks.

Dr Kopp, who was addressing a major international conference held in Glasgow on disorders of social development such as autism, Asperger syndrome, dyslexia and ADHD, said health professionals and teachers faced a major challenge to ensure that these children were not allowed to "fall through the cracks of society".

Dr Kopp said part of the problem stemmed from the fact that research into ADHD focused on boys. "There are thousands of papers on ADHD in boys, but only 300 on the condition in girls."

But ADHD's symptoms were different in both sexes, she added. "In school, boys with ADHD are very disruptive, very noisy, so they force teachers to deal with the issue and to have it diagnosed. For girls, it's as if they lose interest in school; they can't be bothered. The teacher doesn't have to deal with them, because they don't interrupt the school day."

Sophie Dow, the founder of Mindroom, a Scotland-based charity helping children and adults with learning difficulties, and the group behind the conference, said: "Because boys are so in-your-face in their normal behaviour, when they have ADHD, it's extremely noticeable. Girls in this situation can go unnoticed and untreated. They're being left to drown at the back of classrooms."

However, the disruptive behaviour widely associated with ADHD is shown in girls at home, which Dr Kopp said can lead to misdiagnosis. "If the parents are saying their child is very oppositional, but the teacher says 'well, she's no problem in class', that can lead to a misdiagnosis that there is some sort of family issue. It can mean the child is branded 'a problem'."

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