From a Specialist: Interview with Patricia O. Quinn, M.D.

“You’re the expert on your child—listen to that voice inside of you.” – Patricia Quinn, developmental pediatrician, author,  and ADHD specialist

Patricia Quinn, M.D. is a developmental pediatrician and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) specialist who has written over 20 innovative books on ADHD and other learning differences, such as Attention, Girls! A Guide to Learn All About Your ADHD and 100 Questions and Answers About ADHD In Women and Girls. She has dedicated her life to improving the lives of both adults and children with ADHD, as well as the lives of their families and friends.

Dr. Quinn is the co-founder and director of the National Center for Girls and Women with ADHD and has devoted a majority of her career to improving the awareness of the issues that women and girls with ADHD face. She has also traveled nationwide conducting and teaching professional development workshops to facilitate a better understanding of how to successfully work with and empower children with ADHD. Below, Patricia Quinn discusses her knowledge and thoughts on ADHD and the challenges associated with the condition.

Q: How did you end up focusing your career on ADHD?

A: I always knew I wanted to be a pediatrician–I got married after my sophomore year of medical school and had a baby in 1972 during my internship. There were only seven women in my class at that time, and they didn’t have maternity leave—it was a “had to have your baby on your weekend off” kind of thing. I decided I would do a fellowship to meet the research project requirements. I spoke to all the departments at Georgetown and got all the approvals that were required. I also got the American Academy to approve that if I did a two-year fellowship, it would count as one year of my residency. I remember thinking that if I ever wrote a book about this chapter of my life, I would want it to be about how I didn’t take “no” for an answer.

For the fellowship research component, I interviewed 300 boys and chose the 100 most hyperactive to monitor and follow them for three years. And even further down the road, about five years later, we followed up with them and found that three of the 100 had died, and that this group statistically had more car accidents and general struggles than comparable demographics. People don’t understand the severity and impact ADHD has on an individual. [ADHD] affects a whole lot of things, and I think that’s something people need to understand.

I think that’s why I eventually started focusing on women and girls with ADHD. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that specialists began studying adults and then they found that women can also have it. People always think I started focusing my career on ADHD because there’s a lot of ADHD in my family, but I wrote my first paper in 1969 before I knew any of that existed.

Q: What would you say are some of the greatest challenges or myths facing children/parents with ADHD?

A: It’s not a benign disorder and it’s not an “academic disorder.” It’s a chronic, lifelong disorder that affects people 24/7. I think that’s one of the major challenges facing parents and kids, is that they don’t understand the disorder. But that’s the whole thing—it’s not bad, it’s hopeful when you get the diagnosis. Their attitude is so important.

Q: What is your take on “treatments” or medications for ADHD?

A: ADHD is a neurological-based disorder, so medication will treat your symptoms. But [you] need to work on all those other things in your life—we need to teach you how to study, how to organize your books, how to put away your clothes, and we need to teach parents how to work on these things with their children. People with ADHD need therapy for social skills and many other supports.

I always find myself saying to parents, “Yes, you’ve tried medication, and you’ve tried therapy, etc. But have you tried all of these things together? If you don’t leave my office with about 12 things to do to make life better and more manageable, then I haven’t done my job.”

Q: How does ADHD present differently in girls as opposed to boys?

A: Not only are there different types of ADHD, but girls with ADHD present differently for many reasons; fluctuating hormones, societal expectations and pressure, poor self-esteem, anxiety, or depression can all affect how ADHD presents. With males, there is a lot more externalizing, and ADHD presents more as a conduct or behavior disorder. Girls are often more self-aware and internalized and say things like “I’m not very smart” or “it takes me longer.” They’re embarrassed by their ADHD and call themselves names. For this reason, girls do very well with cognitive behavioral therapy because it rewrites the scripts inside their heads— something that medicine can’t do.  

Q: What would you say have been some of your biggest challenges/accomplishments in your career?

A: My biggest challenge has been getting ADHD in females recognized as a distinct field for ADHD experts.

My biggest accomplishment are the books I’ve written for kids. I’ve written about 20 books, and my first book was Putting on the Brakes: Understanding and Taking Control of your ADD or ADHD, and it was important because no one was telling the kids about ADHD directly. Doctors and specialists would talk to the parents, but the parents would sometimes keep the information from their children. It talks about having a good engine, but no brakes, as a metaphor.

Another book of mine really accomplishes a lot: Attention, Girls! A Guide to Learn All About Your ADHD and 100 Questions and Answers About ADHD In Women and Girls. It gives examples of how to plan a birthday party or gives them fun things to do to control their ADHD. I’ve had parents tell me that their child sleeps with the book under the pillow, or that their child reads it and says “oh my god, I have this!” It’s just my favorite book.

Q: What do you think prevents someone from being diagnosed with ADHD?

A: ADHD always looks very different, so diagnosing ADHD is extremely difficult. There are different impacts at different times of life and ADHD will often show up differently. But one of the main things that prevents someone from being diagnosed with ADHD is that they need someone to refer them. Other people have to recognize what’s going on and send the child to a specialist.

I once had a mother bring in one of the most hyperactive children that I’ve ever seen for a diagnosis, and she was only there because the school referred her. This mother and her child would go to the park every day for hours, rain or shine. The mother had no frame of reference and just thought that that’s how raising a child was supposed to be.

Q: What would you say are some of the more important things for a learning center, such as Hill Learning Center, to focus on?

A: Hill Learning Center does a lot of community outreach, which is excellent. We need to educate the educators in the community about how to handle ADHD in the classroom. They do that with their professional development—they’ve created a program where the teacher to student ratio increases a child’s chances of not being distracted. Hill [Learning Center] is a fantastic school for learning differences, and they really help the child learn to play to his or her strengths to where they can show their intellect and achievements in the best light.

How Hill Learning Center Can Help

We can make a difference. Hill Learning Center is dedicated to transforming students with learning differences and attention challenges into confident, independent learners. Contact us if you’re interested in taking the next step.

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