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Recognition and referral of girls with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: case vignette study


Kapil Sayal, Section of Developmental Psychiatry, University of Nottingham, E Floor, South Block, Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham, NG7 2UH, UK


Background  Compared with boys, girls with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are under-recognized. Parents commonly discuss concerns with teachers, who play an important role in the recognition and referral of children with ADHD. We investigated whether the predominating subtype of symptomatology influences teacher recognition of affected girls.

Methods  A total of 212 teachers from 40 randomly selected primary schools in England participated in a postal questionnaire study. The questionnaire consisted of a case vignette (based on DSM-IV criteria) describing a girl with either combined or predominantly inattentive subtype ADHD. Each school received an equal number of each type of vignette for distribution. Further questions elicited teachers' conceptualization of the girl's difficulties and need for specialist referral, their views on treatment modalities and demographic data.

Results  Most (98%) teachers recognized the presence of a problem but mainly conceptualized the girl's behaviour as reflecting attentional (89%) or emotional (62%) difficulties. Teachers were less likely to correctly identify a girl with inattentive than combined subtype ADHD (14% vs. 43%) or recommend clinical referral (50% vs. 59%) for her. Few (15%) teachers thought that medication might be helpful for a girl meeting diagnostic criteria for ADHD.

Conclusions  Teachers are able to recognize ADHD-related behaviours and impairments but conceptualize these as reflecting attentional or emotional difficulties rather than as relating to a disorder (ADHD). Teachers' conceptualization of ADHD and views about medication are important factors that could affect accurate recognition and referral. Improving teachers' knowledge about ADHD, especially the inattentive subtype, could assist in tackling gender-related barriers to care.