Sunday, 19 June 2016

Gender bias in the diagnostic of learning disabilities

by Eleanor Barber

Gender bias surrounds our lives every day, although sometimes we choose to ignore it. In some cases it is so marginal that it does not show or cause a concern. However in my opinion there are certain areas in which I think we should work harder to reduce the gap between the two genders, especially within the fields of education and mental health, which are important aspects in our lives at school and in higher education. 

I have recently learnt that boys are more likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability from a young age than girls are. There are several reasons for this.

Referral bias can lead to boys getting diagnosed before girls because boys who are struggling and frustrated with school work are more likely to act out in the class room, whereas girls are likely to show inattention, which, although it is noticed by teachers, is often not looked into as it is assumed that they are simply uninterested in the subject. This is true especially of ADD/ADHD as boys tend to have the hyperactive form of ADHD, whereas girls usually have the inattentive type. This however is a generalization. We are know more about ADHD in boys, which leads to a higher diagnostic in boys than girls. Boys that have ADHD are more like to cause trouble, leading to teachers and parents trying to look for a solution. However girls are more likely to have the inattentive form of ADHD, which leads teachers to believe that they just need to work harder.  Symptoms for ADHD in boys tend to include getting in trouble at school, being physically aggressive, interrupting while in conversations; as a result, boys are more likely to have behavioural issues and to show external symptoms. Symptoms for ADHD in girls tend to include having trouble socializing, being more verbally aggressive, spacing out in a conversation; these are usually internal frustrations and are linked to low self-esteem. The ratio of boys to girls with ADHD is 5:1.

Test bias is another reason why girls are less likely to be diagnosed than boys. Many of the tests now used to test for learning disabilities were designed and standardized on boys, which mean many of these tests show common symptoms in boys. For example an ADHD test would not pick up on the children, primarily girls but also boys, with the inattentive kind of ADHD, leaving them undiagnosed for many years if not for the rest of their lives. These tests do not show symptoms that are present primarily in girls. This is true of autism, as girls are more likely have a passive behaviour and mimic social interaction without understanding, due to observing and copying others, whereas boys are  more likely to have an aggressive behaviour and have no interest in becoming socially interactive, like their peers.

In conclusion I think that tests that are designed specifically for the needs of girls with learning disabilities should be made because not having the support they need as children can have an impact on their adult lives. This also applies to boys who have symptoms that are usually associated with girls. 

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