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ADHD Testing - What Happens During ADHD Testing?

Preparing for the ADHD Evaluation

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Updated March 27, 2009

For many parents, making an appointment and getting their child tested for ADHD can be a major step that may create a flurry of feelings and questions. How do you prepare for such an evaluation? What will the doctor or other healthcare provider need? How long will the testing take? What exactly does the testing involve?

The term “testing” is quite misleading. No medical “test” is currently available that can definitively determine whether or not someone has ADHD. Testing for ADHD really means being evaluated for ADHD. Your child’s evaluation will involve a great deal of information gathering. Once the professional evaluating your child has all the necessary information, he (or she) will then make his best judgment regarding the presence of ADHD.

Before the Appointment

Before the initial appointment, you may receive several behavior checklists and questionnaires to fill out and bring to your first meeting with the doctor. These forms will include general information about your child and family, as well as developmental, medical and behavioral history. Complete all these forms and bring them with you to the first appointment.

Parent Interview

A major part of your child’s evaluation will involve the parent interview. One way you can prepare for this interview is to think about and write down a list of your specific concerns regarding your child. Think about when and where these problems occur -– home, school, in the neighborhood or community, in after-school activities, with other peers. Do these problems occur more often or to a degree that is beyond what you think is typical of other children the same age?

Talk with your child’s teacher and jot down a list of her concerns, as well. Bring any educational assessments or other school evaluations with you to the appointment. You will be asked to sign a consent form giving the doctor permission to talk with the teacher (who will also be asked to fill out behavior checklists), but it is often helpful for you to share this with the doctor, as well.

In addition to the current concerns, think about the history of these problems. When did they first begin? How long have they been occurring? The doctor will also want to gather detailed information about your child’s medical history and development. You can bring your child’s medical records to the appointment with you. The doctor may also ask for written permission to contact your child’s pediatrician. Think about whether there are things about your child’s development or medical history that may be relevant. Write them down so you remember to share these during the interview. If you are unsure whether something is important, jot it down anyway. It is always safer to share more than too little.

It is also important for you to share with the doctor any issues around the family that may be affecting your child. Has the family experienced any recent changes or losses –- a move, change in school, divorce, health problems in the family, death? Other issues may be going on that are more sensitive and difficult to talk about. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to share these, as well. In order to make an accurate diagnosis, it is important for the doctor to be aware of any factors that may be contributing to your child’s difficulties. Write down any family problems such as marital stress and conflict, episodes of excessive physical discipline, suspected sexual abuse of the child, a family member with alcoholism or substance abuse issues, and any other chronic family tension.

By organizing and writing down these concerns, you will be better prepared for the parent interview and the doctor will be more informed to help your child. Ideally, both parents should be involved in creating this list of concerns and also involved in the parent interview with the doctor. Though this evaluation is occurring because of the problems and frustrations your child is experiencing, take some time to jot down a list of your child’s strengths, too. This will help give the doctor a more well-rounded picture of your child.

Be sure to let the doctor know of any other professional evaluations or assistance your child has received. Bring those reports with you to the appointment. The doctor may also ask for permission to contact these professionals for more information, so bring their names and contact information with you, as well.

Child Interview

In addition to meeting with you, the doctor will also meet with your child to get more information on your child’s understanding about why he (or she) is visiting the doctor today, as well as his perceptions regarding the referral concerns. This part of the interview serves as an informal evaluation about your child’s behavior and developmental skills. Children often behave differently in one-on-one situations that are new and unfamiliar. The doctor is well aware of this and realizes that symptoms may not be present during the interview at the level that is creating concerns for you and the school.

Educational (IQ and achievement testing) and psychological testing, while not used to diagnose ADHD, may be indicated if there is concern regarding a specific learning disability or other emotional and/or developmental issue. If this is the case, the doctor will discuss this with you.

A pediatric physical examination and neurodevelopmental screening of your child may also be performed in order to rule out any other medical conditions that may be producing the ADHD-like symptoms. Sometimes formal speech and language assessments are also recommended.

Expect the evaluation to last at least two to three hours -- and longer if your child also needs educational or psychological testing.

Checklist of Items to Bring to the Evaluation on page 2.

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