The hidden reason ADHD girls are going undiagnosed

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It’s no secret ADHD women often go undiagnosed until well into adulthood — years and even decades later than their male counterparts

According to a recent CNN article, this is due in part to the fact that, “As a disorder traditionally seen as affecting males, and with males referred more often for a diagnosis, research to assess ADHD has been based on samples largely consisting of boys.”

A related explanation is that unlike little boys, whose hyperactivity sends up a red flag to teachers and parents, little girls tend toward symptoms of inattention. They struggle to concentrate and can often be found daydreaming — or so the existent literature on the subject says — and such behavior is less noticeable to adults who are in a position to get a child the help they need. So it goes that boys, at 12.1 percent, are more than twice as likely as girls, at 5.5 percent, to have current ADHD, according to the National Survey of Children’s Health 2003-2011.

But you know what? I call bullshit. That’s only half the story.

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7 things that DO NOT make you a bad feminist

Between 2015 and 2017, I was a graduate student in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies master’s degree program at Oregon State University. This was one of the most important experiences of my life, primarily because it gave me the strong foundation in the feminist knowledge that I knew I would need if I wanted to become a successful feminist blogger. Yet I also derived essential benefits from the experience insofar as it revealed to me how exclusive modern feminism can be. But as the great bell hooks reminds us, Feminism Is for Everybody.

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1. Being heterosexual

At some point in this long battle for gender equality, we got confused and assumed that meant that female-identified people who love and/or want to bang people of the male persuasion must exist in opposition to the cause of feminism. If the logic here is that it is because men are part of the problem, well, that’s as sexist as the problem itself. 

2. Being privileged

As an upper-middle-class (as long as I live with my parents, anyway) Caucasian, I’m privileged. I know that. What I don’t know, however, is why this has led people in the past to assume I’m “part of the problem.” Those who are not of color and are of wealth have perpetrated some abominable atrocities. But that doesn’t mean all people sharing one or both of these traits must automatically be taken as the enemy. A lot of us have our hearts in the right place and are eager to learn from people who are differently oppressed and work together with them to make things better. The need for sexual equality knows no income or skin color.

3. Being monogamous

Sexual liberation has been a critical element in feminism since the dawn of the second wave. But somewhere along the way, being sexually liberated became a requirement to join the feminist cause, and moreover, the definition of sexual liberation seemed to shift to exclude long-term, single-partner relationships, especially relationships with men (see above). But I call bullshit. True sexual liberation means feeling free to engage in whatever type of sexual activity you want (as long as it’s consensual) without worrying about how others will perceive it. It doesn’t matter if it takes place in the context of a committed relationship. 

4. Being cisgender

Shaving your legs, wearing makeup, or being in any way “feminine” whatsoever is NOT mutually exclusive with being a card-carrying feminist. True feminists realize gender roles are human-made, and so resisting freaking out over whether you’re conforming to said gender roles, by realizing certain traits are merely artificially coded “feminine” or “masculine,” is as feminist an act as I can imagine. As Martha Rampton of Pacific University’s Center for Gender Equity notes,

An aspect of third wave feminism that mystified the mothers of the earlier feminist movement was the readoption by young feminists of the very lip-stick, high-heels, and cleavage proudly exposed by low cut necklines that the first two phases of the movement identified with male oppression.

5. Wanting to get married

I’ve just about had it with the argument that a quote-unquote real feminist activist can’t dream of someday saying “I do.” Whatever your gender identity or the gender identity of your chosen spouse, the institution of marriage has the potential to be extremely feminist. After all, marriage, at its best, is about two people coming together as equals and promising to honor and love each other; and equality is feminism manifest. 

6. Wanting to have kids

It’s okay to want to tie the knot. The same goes for the desire to procreate. Motherhood isn’t inherently feminist, despite what some proponents of breastfeeding might have you believe; but it isn’t actively un-feminist, either: Most of the professors I studied under at OSU are parents, and let me tell you, they’re all veritable paragons of feminism. So, yes, I want to be a mom. I also want to shatter the patriarchy. Luckily for me, a feminist can do both.

7. Wanting to beat men at their own game

Second-wave feminists “rejected the ideal of inclusion because … they would only be vying for inclusion in a world built on men’s values.” This MO has continued to dominate mainstream feminism ever since. But while I am loath to tell anyone to “lean in,” let me just say there is nothing at all wrong with wanting to work in the same institutions as men, e.g., a traditional workplace, and surpass them in excellence. It’s totally OK to wish and demand that there be space for us women in the world we live in now.

Otherwise, in my humble opinion, we’re just letting those who benefit from the patriarchy off the hook.

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5 reasons to diagnose an ADHD girl when she’s young (ADHD Awareness Month post #6)

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I was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, better known as ADHD when I was 5. For 1994 — and even 2017 — this was unusual: Girls typically are diagnosed later in life than boys; tending to exhibit symptoms of inattentiveness, rather than hyperactivity, they fly under the radar of parents, teachers, and other adults in their lives. I, however, was one of those rare littlest females whose symptoms included inattentiveness and hyperactivity. Although this meant my ADHD was severe enough to send up a red flag, it also signified I would get the help I needed at a much younger age than many little girls do even today. And I can tell you from personal experience that the younger a child with severe ADHD is diagnosed, the better. But that’s not all. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “About 2 million of the more than 6 million children with ADHD were diagnosed as young children aged 2–5 years,” however, “Children with more severe ADHD are more likely to be diagnosed early.” But I believe that girls with even milder forms of ADHD should be diagnosed earlier as well. Here’s why:

1. It may take a while to identify the right treatment regimen for her.

This is a passage from the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities website:

For children 6 years of age and older, the American Academy of Pediatrics … recommends both behavior therapy and medication as good options, preferably both together. For young children (under 6 years of age) with ADHD, behavior therapy is recommended as the first line of treatment, before medication is tried. Good treatment plans will include close monitoring of whether and how much the treatment helps the child’s behavior, and making changes as needed along the way.

As you can see, there is a lot of wiggle room — whether or not you want it — in the creation of treatment regimens for little ones with ADHD. And it is much better to start this process early in a girl’s education. Ideally, in fact, it would be finalized (for the time being) even before first grade, so that, come the first day of school, she’ll be able to start her academic career on a level playing field. 

2. She needs time to figure out her limitations and how to work around them. 

Just because a girl finds a medication that works for her or has success in therapy doesn’t mean she’s limitation-free. As I’ve said in the past, ADHD medications aren’t 100 percent effective, and CNS stimulant medications last 12 hours at most. Even with modern medicine, the onus is on the ADHD girl to know what she’s capable of — or isn’t, as the case may be — and engage with life accordingly.

3. The earlier she is diagnosed, the earlier she qualifies for accommodations

This can include accommodations via an Individual Education Program (IEP), as well as informal academic accommodations requested by parents or even arranged with a teacher at the request of the girl herself (see below). For all their shortcomings vis-à-vis their response to my ADHD, most of my K-12 teachers were reasonable enough to agree to informal accommodations if I made an effort to propose them, and the few who didn’t, well, they eventually consented once my mom intervened (thanks, Mom)! But my experience was the exception, not the rule. The fact is, people are a lot more likely to be decent human beings and accommodate kids with ADHD if there’s a legal impetus for them to do so. 

4. She should have plenty of time to learn to self-advocate.

According to the CDC, an article published in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that “girls who had a number of symptoms when they were young were as likely as boys to continue to have those symptoms after they became teenagers.” Thus, ADHD can be a chronic (long-lasting) issue for all children, regardless of gender. This means an ADHD girl needs to know just what’s wrong with her (her neurology, not her character) so she can develop coping mechanisms and learn to adapt her life to her brain, such as by arranging informal accommodations with a teacher (see above).

5. She deserves, right from the start, to know she is not a bad person.

As I said, a problem with your neurology doesn’t indicate a problem with your character. In fact, if you find out that you have a mental disorder, in this case, ADHD, you’re also finding out that you haven’t actually been to blame for all the “bad” things you do or ways you behave. But this revelation only comes with the proper diagnosis. The reason this is particularly pivotal for girls, even more so than boys, is that in this world of misogyny and sexism, people whose gender is coded ‘female’ have enough to grapple with just by said gender. There is no need to compound those challenges with untreated neurological impairments; in fact, that must be avoided at all costs. 

Pregnancy + stress = public health’s perfect storm

From January 2015 to December 2016, I was a student in the master’s degree program in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University. My time in grad school was instrumentally influential to me. I minored in women’s studies back in college at U of O, but when I realized that my real aspiration was to become a feminist writer, I decided that I needed a much stronger foundation in feminism as an area of study. And that turned out to be true in ways I hadn’t even anticipated: I became aware that my prior feminist education, for all its merits, had failed to incorporate discussions of women of color. But that was about to change.

Lifelong stress → premature birth

One of my primary research interests while at OSU was women’s health. As it turned out, one of the professors, Mehra Shirazi, specialized in that, and I was fortunate to take not one, but two courses from her: Global Perspectives on Women’s Health, in winter of my first year, and Race, Gender, and Health Justice, a year later. Of all the lessons I learned in her classes, one, in the form of a newsreel, has always stuck with me.

Stress during pregnancy → ADHD

WOC aren’t the only ones for whom stress can result in adverse birth outcomes for their childrenIn my last post, I mentioned that women with ADHD who experience stress during pregnancy are more likely to have children with it. Well, I was wrong. The abstract of an article published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology in 2011 states that “maternal stressful events during pregnancy significantly predicted ADHD behaviors in offspring,” i.e., stressful events for any pregnant woman, not just one with ADHD

Furthermore, said Dr. Ian Colman, who led a similar study earlier this year, “Generally speaking… the higher the stress, the higher the symptoms.”

In other words, more children are susceptible to maternal-stress-induced ADHD. And their symptoms vary in severity depending on the level of maternal stress. 

In the announcement of their study on stress in pregnant women and ADHD, University of Ottawa researchers included an infographic of so-called stress management tips and tricks, including:

Portrait of sad and frustrated pregnant woman.

Women with ADHD who experience stress during pregnancy are more likely to have children born with ADHD. (Photo source: Adobe Stock)

  1. Identify what’s behind your stress and address it right away
  2. Talk to your loved ones to help them help you
  3. Simplify your life by shortening your to-do list and learning to say no
  4. Quiet your mind through yoga and mindfulness
  5. Find time to do something you enjoy, such as hobbies or physical activity.

That’s all well and good, but it predicates on the dual notions that (a) stress is situational, and relatedly, that (b) women have the power, i.e., time and agency, to quote-unquote simplify their lives, quiet their minds, and do things they enjoy. 

First of all, it would be ideal  — I’m not saying it would be great, but it would be the best-case scenario — if all stress were indeed situational. But in fact, it’s systemic; there are sociological reasons that women find themselves in stressful situations.

For example, I think we can all agree that in general, men are more amenable to “going the extra mile” for their wives when they are serving as human incubators for their progeny. But this is temporary. Gender roles are so entrenched in our consciousness, exist so much in our understanding of the fabric of society that they’re liable to supersede sudden inclinations toward chivalry. They may wash the dishes occasionally; even assume all responsibility for helping the kids they already have with their homework, etc. — at least after coming home from the office.

But will they assume sole responsibility for cleaning all toilets in the house for the next nine months — and do so without even being asked? Let me put it this way: My dad is a proud feminist, but according to my mom, not even he went that far when I was a bun in his wife’s oven.

The salient point here is that unless a husband* assumes all extant household responsibilities, a wife has no means of wholly and entirely de-stressing. Moreover, in the most extreme versions of our regular social paradigm, women don’t even have time to find out what they enjoy, let alone actually do it. 

Women of color

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Stress resulting from everyday racism in women of color over a lifetime can result in adverse health outcomes for their children at birth. (Photo source: American Psychological Association)

In addition to this paradigm shift between husbands and wives, in order to avoid the adverse birth outcomes of which their children are at risk, WOC would need to retroactively un-experience the systemic (there’s that word again) ‘everyday racism’ they have experienced all their lives. Erasing the sexism that they were forced to endure, well, that wouldn’t hurt matters, either. Unfortunately, none of this is possible. Technically, we can’t do anything for the WOC already of childbearing age, except confer upon them the utmost respect and provide them with any prenatal care that may reduce the likelihood of pre-term delivery.

I have a vision for future generations, though, of my friends’ children growing up without the media suppressing reportage of violence against WOC in favor of the police-violence-against-the-Black-man narrative. In this vision, violence against POC — regardless of gender — isn’t even a thing. 

All in all, I agree with Dr. Michael Lu:

If we’re serious about improving birth outcomes and reducing disparities, we’ve got to start taking care of woman before pregnancy and not just talking about that one visit three months pre-conceptionally; I’m talking about when she’s a baby inside her mother’s womb, an infant, and then a child, an adolescent and really taking care of women and families across their life course.

And I agree, as well, with my former classmate in WGSS and dear friend Amber Moody:

I think it’s brilliant to frame systemic racism/sexism as a public health issue. … [T]hese systems of discrimination still exist; and the effects, which really can be traced back to colonialism and white supremacy, have been genetically embedded into our lives. And until we actually address the source of the problem, these … issues are going to continue to be passed down for generations.


*I say ‘husband’ because I was raised in and hypothetically will enter into a heterosexual family dynamic consisting of a cismale husband and a cisfemale wife. There are, of course, numerous other familial configurations; albeit I doubt very much that the same degree of gender-role pigeonholing would be present in a female-female marriage. 

‘What Happened,’ and what needs to happen now

This week, my hero, better known as Hillary Rodham Clinton, had a slew of TV news appearances. Watching her on The Today Show on Wednesday morning, and The Rachel Maddow Show on Thursday night, it all came rushing back: that singular moment when she seized the Democratic nomination; my confidence that during the General Election, she would win the popular vote; and the complete, unprecedented (un-presidented?) devastation on election night, when I realized that I had been only half right.

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Hillary Clinton in her Sept. 13, 2017 appearance on the TODAY Show.

The specifics of her second bid for president and its catastrophic end are well-documented elsewhere. What Clinton focused on during her appearances is the namesake of her new memoir: What Happened.

What, indeed.

According to Clinton, the major blow was dealt by James Comey, the (now former) director of the FBI.

Granted,  Clinton wouldn’t have taken such a severe political beating last fall if Comey hadn’t had such a massive and very public brain fart. I am loath to diverge with my girl Hill, but there was another less obvious but more destructive factor at work than mental flatulence.

The true culprit — the reason Donald Trump is now the president of the United States — is misogyny.

We have made great strides toward doing away with sexism; I readily and joyfully admit that. Misogyny, on the other hand, endures. Pernicious, and systemic, it was without a doubt Clinton’s downfall. Misogyny inheres in our society because, as Clinton so accurately put it, an endemic, generalized hatred of women has been passed from generation to generation.

Freedom from misogyny would require an entire generation to grow up never witnessing an act of sexism — for sexism, essentially, to cease to exist anywhere in the world. Thereupon, that generation would then need to raise their children in a world in which female-identified people never experience discrimination. Only by forming a united front in the name of love and equity can we hope ever to see a woman in the Oval Office.

Now, it certainly didn’t help that the Electoral College is still a thing. But it is no coincidence that the person who should have succeeded President Barack Obama was passed over in favor of one accused multiple times of sexual assault, whose behavior and language (“Grab ’em by the pussy!”) don’t exactly make him look innocent. Too much of the U.S. population operates under the notion that a powerful man is forgivable — nay, even trustworthy — while a powerful woman needs to be punished. 

I will never get over the events of Nov. 8, 2016. I will never forget the feeling in the pit of my stomach when the election swung in Trump’s favor. And I will always resent the fact that someone of the female gender probably won’t be elected to the highest office in the land during my mom’s lifetime.

But we can’t allow what happened to defeat us. It’s time to start the generations-long work of eliminating misogyny — completely, and forever.


*Clinton begins to address sexism and misogyny at about 07:44. However, you definitely should watch this video in its entirety, because it starts with Rachel Maddow showing Hillary Clinton a funny panda video. Seriously. The greatest moment in television history? I think YES.

Learning from ‘Sexual Politics’ after losing Kate Millett

As a feminist (read: human being), I was saddened to learn last night of the death of Kate Millett. There is still so much we can — and must — learn from her.

It is 2017, but ‘the patriarchy’ continues to represent, metonymically, a societal system in which men enjoy power. Just as descent continues to follow the male line, so, too, do males continue to hold The Power, and to the exclusion and detriment of Woman. In Sexual Politics (1970), Millett declared of the patriarchy,

So perfect is its system of socialization, so complete the general assent to its values, so long and so universally has it prevailed in human society,” that it “scarcely seems to require violent implementation.”

But why did the patriarchy manage to survive? How could this happen on our watch? Once again, we need to take a page out of Kate Millett’s book.

Despite our supposed leaps and bounds vis-à-vis sexual equality over the last half-century, the patriarchy has endured with seemingly no concerted efforts dedicated to its maintenance. In this patriarchal society (emphasis on ‘patriarchal’), women learn from day one to covet maleness, especially in comparison to femaleness — in terms both of sex and of gender. Millett observed,

Patriarchal circumstances and beliefs seem to have the effect of poisoning the female’s own sense of physical self until it often truly becomes the burden it is said to be.” Thus, “The female is continually obliged to seek survival or advancement through the approval of males as those who hold power.”

The upshot, unfortunately, is divisive competitiveness, which is one of the most powerful tools in the patriarchy’s arsenal.

Not only is divisiveness an instrument of the patriarchy, but also, in fact, patriarchy is actually to blame for that selfsame tendency of mainstream feminism toward divisiveness. We have all been conditioned to believe that, as women, we are ill equipped to handle complexities; after all, Millett professes,

A large factor in their subordinate position is the fairly systematic ignorance patriarchy imposes upon women.”

That being the case, the Third Wave’s unprecedented awareness of and attention to the multivalent nature of the feminist movement has manifested in schismatic individualism. For example, one of the principal issues for cisfemale feminists who have sex with men is ongoing access to safe, affordable birth control; however, self-identified lesbians insist that this has no relevance to them; obviously, this is technically correct. Like so, we operate under the notion that it would simply be impossible for lesbians to fight for reproductive justice for straight women while still fighting for equality for themselves, let alone that straight women should advocate for gay women’s equality, specifically, despite it offering no direct benefit to them. On a similar but broader scale, there is a well documented generational disconnect between young and old feminists, as well.

Ignorance, whether imagined or real, is not the only reason that the fight to overthrow the patriarchy has been so prolonged. Even the most awakened, card-carrying feminists have not yet healed from the pernicious effects of patriarchal upbringing entirely. Some of us do it unconsciously, with good intentions; others do it proudly, invoking the singularity of lived experience and situated knowledge. The salient point is, we are doing it: continuing to live according to the dictate of ‘every man for himself.’ The patriarchy has us right where it wants us. Whether or not we care to admit it, this is still very much a man’s, man’s, man’s world; it is so because we have allowed it to be.

Referring to society at the time, Millett observed,

Just as every minority member must either apologize for the excesses of a fellow or condemn him with a strident enthusiasm, women are characteristically harsh, ruthless and frightened in their censure of aberration among their numbers.”

This continues to be painfully accurate. Amid the divisiveness, feminists have managed to unite on one front; irrespective of race, sexuality, or class, there already is a shared tendency among many feminist activists to obstruct women with disabilities from joining their ranks.

An oft-invoked criticism of Sexual Politics is that it lacks sufficient acknowledgment of the genuine differences in the typical lived experience of members of individual communities on the grounds of class and especially race. Accordingly, Millett herself is accused of failing to take into account the historicity and the very existence of different groups of feminist activists belonging to each respective community, which comprised the larger so-called women’s movement at the time and still do today. For example, black feminism, aka womanism, has existed for as long as mainstream (read: white) feminism, yet always had a distinct political agenda; while the suffragists were fighting for their right to vote, black women were living in a world in which even their husbands were still waiting for enfranchisement. However, one need only sit down and carefully read the second chapter of Sexual Politics to realize that Millett had no intention of contributing to the erasure of the Black-feminist experience, or of downplaying its distinctness from her white feminism. Rather, she was making the case that in scope and endurance, sexism superseded racism: When Millett wrote her doctoral-thesis-cum-magnum opus, in the late-1960s, she noted,

The priorities of maintaining male supremacy might outweigh even those of white supremacy; sexism may be more endemic … than racism.”

Is this true now, as we approach the end of the second decade of the new millennium? Well, the United States had its first black, male president eight years before the majority of the country voted for a white, female one; moreover, despite winning the popular vote, she was still beat to the Oval Office by an uber-conservative, white man. Racism and sexism both still exist, but it would appear that sexism is more comprehensive, more pervasive, and yet more insidious.

In the television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale that aired on Hulu earlier this year, people of different ethnicities comprised the cast, yet there was no discussion of race, and racism was never discernible. All women were equally enslaved by the patriarchy — which, it bears mentioning, an exclusively white-male government facilitated and preserved.

Almost 50 years after the original publication of Sexual Politics, Millett reminds us that we are more alike than we are different, and so we must not allow ourselves to succumb to self-doubt or divisiveness. We all want, and need, the same thing: an end to the patriarchy. That day will only come when we have learned to trust ourselves and realize that we can, and should, fight for the rights of our sisters while still advocating for our own.