Do Girls Need Therapy As Much as Boys?

February 23, 2015

In July 2014 an ad campaign by Always called #LikeAGirl became a movement bringing light to how discriminatory phrases in our culture often puts girls at a disadvantage. As a therapist, I have noted that the majority of my caseload has always been boys. Typically if I do have a female patient, she has a more complicated medical history. I have often pondered whether this disparity was more due to genetics or gender disadvantage. So why do boys receive therapy more than girls?

Research 

It is true that more boys than girls are diagnosed with developmental disorders including autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and speech delays. This is due in part to girls developing language, social, and emotional skills faster than boys. A young female brain is actually known to have more activity, fibers, and white matter compared to the brain of a young boy. However, a 2014 DNA study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics revealed that girls seem to tolerate more genetic mutations than boys do before showing symptoms of autism and are therefore more resilient. Yet, when they are diagnosed, they tend to demonstrate symptoms that are more severe including in cases of ADHD and intellectual disability.

Gender Differences

Interestingly, a 2005 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry looked at gender differences in ADHD and showed that females demonstrated more internalizing disorders such as separation anxiety verses the externalizing disorders common to males like oppositional defiant and conduct disorders. Taking both studies into consideration, I feel it is possible that girls may display different, less disruptive symptoms and hence fly under the radar. Perhaps the emotional maturity of young girls verses boys allows for more internal sign that are overlooked by parents and educators? Maybe it is not that girls tolerate mutations more than boys but that adults are less tolerant of the behavior displayed by boys? The debate is not likely to end anytime soon; but, in the meantime, let’s consider that acting like a girl may cause girls to be under-diagnosed.

Differences in Symptoms

Symptoms of ADHD in girls include dreaminess, forgetfulness, or messiness that may lead to difficulty with completing school assignments, expression of anxiety in social situations, and feelings of inadequacy with school work. If observed, consider consulting with your primary care physician about seeking an evaluation with a pediatric occupational therapist. I hope you find this helpful. Have a playful day!

Amy Baez, MOT, OTR/L

Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational therapist, award-winning handwriting author, and Founder of Playapy. For more information, visit www.playapy.com or email info@playapy.com.

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