Making Sense of Behavior: Girls, Boys, Attention Deficits and Stereotypes



My friends at The Inclusive Class recently posted the following visual on Facebook:


ADD ADHD Girls Stereotypes Behavior


It resonated, but I found myself thinking more about stereotypes than disabilities.


You’ve done it, haven’t you? Referred to girls as “chatty”, categorized their behavior as “drama” or blamed the way she is acting on “hormones”? I certainly have. And there may well be truth to each of those descriptions. But we do our children a disservice when we simply use stereotypes to explain away their behavior. 


That’s why this list really gave me pause. In looking at it closely, many are the sort of behaviors one might explain away as “girl stuff”. And while there are genuine differences in the way that boys and girls may demonstrate attention deficits, far more concerning to me is the way that adults tolerate (or don’t!) these behaviors. According to this article from Understood.org, “Teachers tend to have a different tolerance level for the behavior girls with ADHD exhibit than they do for the behavior of boys with ADHD.”


Is this leading us to misdiagnosing and/or over-diagnosing children based on our own set of expectations or a lack of ability to manage behavior?


A famous quote: “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” 

Shouldn’t the same be true of the way we manage behavior? Why do we continue to force children into neat packages that can sit still and attend for hours at a time?


I have written about attention issues before. In Are We Giving Our Children ADD? I reflected on an article that asserts that we actually have and must train our “attention muscle”. My jury is still out on this concept. While I do think that there is merit to the idea that we can teach, and thereby improve, the skill of paying attention, I also think that we are simply expecting too much of our children when we force them to sit at desks and pay attention throughout an entire school day.


So let’s not assume that all of our girls have ADHD just because they like to chat with friends, and we must not discount the real effect that changing hormones can have on both girls and boys. Rather, let's become increasingly mindful about our expectations of behavior and the way in which we both categorize and tolerate those behaviors we consider problematic. Maybe it's just our expectations that are the problem.

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