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Diagnosing ADHD

Learn About How ADHD is Diagnosed

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Updated June 19, 2014

Doctor sitting at her desk in her office, leaning over and holding hand of young female patient, young girl patient sitting on lap of her mother
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What is involved in diagnosing attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? Lots of information must be gathered in order for the doctor or mental health professional to make the diagnosis of ADHD. A good portion of this information is obtained through clinical interviews. You will be asked to complete behavior checklists or questionnaires to give the professional more detailed information about the problematic behaviors. Further evaluations may occur through observation and psychological and educational testing. If your child is being evaluated, you and his teachers (or other important adults who observe your child's behavior in various settings) may be interviewed. A physical exam may be recommended in order to rule out any medical causes for the symptoms. A family medical history is also helpful.

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Questions to Ask During the ADHD Evaluation Process

  • Could something else be causing the behavior problems?
  • Are there other medical or psychological conditions that may be the cause?
  • What about learning disabilities?
  • Are there any environmental or situational factors that may exacerbate the problem?

It is helpful to ask any questions that educate you and the doctor about what may be going on to cause the problematic behaviors. Once a diagnosis of ADHD is made you will have a list of additional questions related to treatment options, ADHD education, and support services.

Information to Have Available for the Health Care Provider During the ADHD Evaluation

Bring copies of any appropriate records such as medical, psychological, school/employment records. Bring copies of any previous evaluations. Be prepared to give a detailed developmental and social history including pregnancy and birth history. Have information available about any other involved professionals – physicians, pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, social workers, therapists, and teachers, including any special education teachers. Many health care providers will send you a questionnaire to complete before the appointment. Be sure to bring the completed forms with you to the appointment.

ADHD Diagnosis

The most prevalent symptoms of ADHD are inattention and distractibility and/or hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. These symptoms are typically seen early in a child’s life, often when he enters a school setting. Problematic behaviors often continue into adolescence and adulthood. Read more about Symptoms of ADHD.

A diagnosis of ADHD requires that an individual meet the criteria requirements listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Read more about ADHD Criteria, as well as Possible Revisions to the Diagnostic Criteria for ADHD.

When making a diagnosis of ADHD it is important for your treatment provider to rule out alternative causes or conditions that may be leading to the problematic behaviors. It is also important to identify any coexisting conditions that may be present.

Read personal stories about the positive impact accurate diagnosis and treatment can have in improving the quality of one's life.

Explaining ADHD to Your Child

Talking about and explaining ADHD to your child after he (or she) has been diagnosed can help remove the mystery surrounding the struggles he knows he's been having. It can also help a child feel a greater sense of control. The first time your child hears about ADHD may be when you sit down together with the doctor following the ADHD evaluation. It can be hard to take in all the information given during this meeting, and both you and your child may have lots of questions. Learning about ADHD is an ongoing process, and the positive ways in which you communicate and relate with your child will enable him to feel free coming to you for support and answers. Read more about words to use when talking to your child about ADHD.

Suggested Reading for Adults With ADHD:

How to Approach Someone You Believe May Have ADHD

ADHD is not a shameful condition. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), ADHD occurs in an estimated 3 to 5 percent of preschool and school age children. That means in a class of 25 to 30 students, it is likely that at least one student will have this common condition. ADHD begins in childhood, but it often lasts into adulthood. Studies estimate that 30-70 percent of children with ADHD will continue to have symptoms into adolescence and adulthood.

If left unrecognized and untreated, however, ADHD can have a profoundly negative impact on the lives of those living with it. ADHD related impairments can lead to serious consequences including school/work failure, chronic under-productivity, and failed relationships. If someone you know is struggling and seems to be having problems characteristic of someone with ADHD, talk to them, educate them about the condition, and encourage that person to connect with their health care provider.

Click on Causes of ADHD to Watch an Informative Video about ADHD.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. Clinical Practice Guideline: Diagnosis and Evaluation of the Child with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Pediatrics 105:1158-1170. May 2000.

American Academy of Pediatrics. ADHD and Your School Age Child. AAP Parent Pages. 2001.

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, D.C. 2000

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