Are Boys more likely to have SEN than Girls?
There have been numerous studies on gender prevalence for Special Educational Needs in North America and Europe.
Most of these studies conclude that boys suffer more from the common SENs than girls although the exact multiples may distort the situation for a variety of reasons. It seems that boys are invariably diagnosed more with SENs than girls, but it is possible that girls camouflage the impact in the classroom which in turn may distort the multiples.
Let’s look at the most common SENs of SPLD (including dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia ) , Autism and ADHD
There are estimated to be 10% of the UK population (all ages) suffering from dyslexia albeit it only manifests itself significantly in around 4% of the population. For each girl diagnosed with dyslexia, between 3 to 5 boys are diagnosed with the same condition. It has long been known that the prevalence of dyslexia cannot be explained by cultural and educational factors. Girls have better reading skills before formal education begins and these sex differences are found across different countries with very different education systems. Scientists have always found differences in processing speeds between boys and girls, which explains the differences in reading skills. However, boys tend to act out when experiencing reading difficulty, whereas girls may try to hide their troubles.
Dyslexia often goes hand in hand with dyscalculia (difficulties with numbers) and dyspraxia (difficulties with movement / coordination). There is not as much research on these two conditions, but some surveys suggest the male female ratio for dyspraxia may be 2:1 although dyscalculia may be nearer to 1:1. However, there is again a view that the conditions are more likely in boys and that teachers are not so aware of the need to observe girls for similar symptoms.
For children on the Autistic Spectrum, some studies suggest there are 4 times as many males to females with others ranging down to 2:1. However in the case of high functioning autism and Aspergers Syndrome, it is thought that the male/female ratio is as high as 15:1 with Autism manifesting as learning difficulty closing the gap to 2:1 .
ADHD is not Autism but is often grouped the same because of similar symptoms. 1 in 20 children are diagnosed with ADHD in school life and for every girl diagnosed there are 3 to 7 boys with an ADHD diagnosis. One of the biggest studies was done in 2004 concluding that the male / female ratio was 3:1 Here it is thought that girls are severely underreported because of boys tendencies to exaggerate behavioural problems at school.
As you can see most of these medical studies come to the same conclusion – namely that boys are more predisposed to many SENs. However, boys tend to draw more negative attention at school. In the case of boys with ADHD, they tend to show more hyperactivity and aggression than girls with ADHD. At the same time girls with ADHD often have other symptoms such as anxiety, depression, constant chattiness and / or low self esteem. However, those behaviours in girls can also be regarded as normal and thus girls are sometimes not referred for SEN support.
It really is not definitively known if boys have learning and attention issues more often than girls do. But what is clear is that when kids are identified with either, they’re likely to get the best support. If girls are under-identified it means that many are not getting the help they need. Thus, parents of girls who are struggling might have to be even stronger advocates for their child.
Our core business is to help parents find the right private school for their child. In the SEN specialist sector, there are very few private schools that are single sex schools. However, for the reasons above, you tend to find there are a dominance of boys in coeducational SEN schools and it is easier for us to find learning support for a boy. You will not find many girls only specialist SEN schools. However, there are quite a lot of girls only mainstream schools, some of which have excellent learning support departments.
When you ask most SEN teachers if they differentiate support for girls, most will respond that it is always essential to treat each child on a case by case basis rather than dictate a gender specific approach. However, if you are a parents with an SEN girl and are worried about the right teaching methods for her, then talk to us about your concerns and we will endeavour to find the school which has the best support.
Les Webb, Managing Director
Education Advisers Ltd
Wateringbury, Kent, ME18 5NN 01622 813870