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Girls with ADHD may not be hyperactive


QUESTION: My daughter has some of the symptoms commonly associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but she is a very quiet child. Are some ADHD kids withdrawn and sedate?

DR. DOBSON: Yes. ADHD is not always associated with hyperactivity, especially in girls. Some of them are “dreamy” and detached. Regrettably, they are sometimes called “airheads” or “space cadets”. Such a child can sit looking at a book for forty-five minutes without reading a word. One teacher told me about a girl in her class who would lose every article of clothing that wasn’t hooked to her body. Nearly every day, the teacher would send this child back to the playground to retrieve her sweater or coat, only to have her return fifteen minutes later without it. She had forgotten what she went after. A boy or girl with that kind of distractibility would find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get home night after night with books and assignments written down, and then to complete the work and return it in the next morning.

Frankly, the “faraway” child worries me more than the one who is excessively active. She may be seen as a good little girl who just isn’t very bright, while the troublemaker is more likely to get the help he needs. He’s too irritating to ignore.

Those who are and are not hyperactive have one characteristic in common. It is distractibility. Even though they flit from one thing to another, the name attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is not quite on target. It’s better than the old term (“minimal brain damage”), but there is also misinformation in the current designation. The problem is not that these children have a short attention span. At times, they can become lost in something that greatly interests them to the point that they aren’t aware of anything going on around them. Instead, they have an insatiable need for mental stimulation during every waking moment. The moment they become bored with what they are doing, they dash off in search of the next exciting possibility.

One father told me about his four-year-old son with ADHD. He said, “If you let that kid get bored, you deserve what he’s going to do to you.” That applies to millions of children.

QUESTION: What are the special needs of a compliant kid – one that goes along to get along? Does he have any special needs?

DR. DOBSON: That’s a great question, and the answer is yes. When one child is a stick of dynamite and the other is an all-star sweetheart, the cooperative, gentle individual can easily be taken for granted. If there’s an unpleasant job to be done, he may be expected to do it because Mom and Dad just don’t have the energy to fight with the tiger. When it is necessary for one child to sacrifice or do without, there’s a tendency to pick the one who won’t complain as loudly. Under these circumstances, the compliant boy or girl comes out on the short end of the stick.

The consequences of such inequity should be obvious. The responsible child often becomes angry over time. He has a sense of powerlessness and resentment that simmers below the surface. He’s like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son told by Jesus. He didn’t rebel against his father. He stayed behind and ran the farm while his irresponsible brother squandered his money on fun and games. Who could blame him for resenting little bro? His response is typical of the compliant, hardworking sibling.

I strongly recommend that parents seek to balance the scales in dealing with the compliant child. Make sure he gets his fair share of parental attention. Help him find ways to cope with his overbearing sibling. And, within reason, give him the right to make his own decisions.

There’s nothing simple about raising kids, is there? Even the “easiest” of them needs our very best effort.

Dr. Dobson is founder and Chairman Emeritus of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80995 ( Questions and answers are excerpted from “Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide” and “Bringing Up Boys,” both published by Tyndale House. COPYRIGHT 2010 JAMES DOBSON INC.