Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Women with Attentional Issues: Success in College Learning

Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Women with Attentional Issues: Success in College Learning

Article excerpt

The postsecondary setting is a challenging and dynamic environment in which to teach and learn. Unfortunately the admirable aims and sincere efforts of educators, administrators, and service providers do not yield success for all students. Some will not succeed because the desire or the ability is not strong enough, but there are other students who are serious and capable scholars who none the less fail in their attempts at higher education. It is the writers' contention that many students with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), or the characteristics of attentional difficulties, fit into this "at risk" category and that the women among them share some particularly unique perspectives on success.

The American Psychiatric Association's (1994) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) has recognized AD/HD as a disorder of developmentally inappropriate attention, impulsivity, and motor hyperactivity. Because AD/HD symptoms manifest in varying degrees and combinations, the DSM-IV also categorizes the disorder by subtypes: inattentive, impulsive/hyperactive, and combination type. Current estimates of how many college students have AD/HD range from 65,000 to 650,000; despite this discrepancy there seems little doubt that the number is growing (DuPaul et al., 2001; Farrell, 2003). Nor is there doubt that these students face heightened challenges, such as lower grades, more academic problems, and more academic probations than their peers without attentional disorders (DuPaul et al., 2001; Heiligenstien, Guenther, Levy, Savino, & Fulwiler, 1999).

Experts in the field of learning disabilities have maintained that there is a higher incidence of males with learning disabilities than females; however, this belief may be a result of cultural bias and a reliance on clinical research that has disproportionately studied the disorder in young boys (DuPaul & Stoner, 1994). Some researchers contend that the gender stratification of AD/HD exists due to the unrecognized nature of gender differences in relationship to AD/HD (Nadeau & Quinn, 2002). These unrecognized, and thus unexplored, gender differences can be better understood by looking at some of the gender-related issues surrounding diagnosis and gender-specific experiences of women living with AD/HD.

Gender-Related Issues in AD/HD Diagnosis

The DSM-IV does not provide gender-specific criteria with relationship to attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity and instead lists traits that are predominantly observed in young males. As Nadeau, Littman, and Quinn emphasize, "checklists commonly used by schools, pediatricians, and psychologists to identify children with AD/HD continue to emphasize hyperactive/impulsive behavior-patterns more typical of boys" (1999, p. 17). This focus means that many females are going undiagnosed or receiving late diagnosis because they do not present the "typical" behavior problems of their male classmates with AD/HD (Rucklidge & Kaplan, 1997; Szatmari, 1992).

Another gender-related issue in the diagnosis of AD/HD is the degree to which presenting behaviors are disruptive to the classroom environment. Girls with AD/HD tend to exhibit less severe symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and distractibility (Gaub & Carlson, 1997) but instead tend towards being "distracted, disorganized, quiet daydreamers" (Nadeau, Littman, & Quinn, 1999, p. 18). Given the fact that AD/HD is a disorder diagnosed on a continuum from mild to severe it is easy to see how many girls, whose presenting behaviors are "milder" and less disruptive, are slipping below the diagnostic and remedial radar.

In addition, a number of authorities in the field of AD/HD have suggested differences between males and females in the age of onset of significant AD/HD symptoms (Quinn & Nadeau, 2002). Also, puberty tends to increase the severity of symptoms in girls (Huessy as cited in Quinn & Nadeau, 2002). Currently, an AD/HD diagnosis requires symptoms to have been exhibited since early childhood. …

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