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Making Sense of Behavior: Girls, Boys and Attention Deficits

Meredith Polsky

The Inclusive Class recently posted the following visual on Facebook:

ADHD in girlsIt 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, “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 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.

Lisa Friedman is Matan’s Manager of Social Media and Alumni Networks. She is also an Education Director at a Reform congregation in Central New Jersey where she oversees the synagogue’s and religious school’s inclusive practice.

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