The question about having ADHD arises simply enough from observing traits or behaviors. You might notice you are easily distracted, hopelessly disorganized, or frequently forgetful. Or perhaps you look at your rambunctious, fidgety child and wonder if it might be ADHD. Others may have made comments that reinforce those suspicions. At some point, concern motivates action – you want an evaluation and a diagnosis, to know for certain, one way or the other.
The process for evaluation and diagnosis, however, can be complex.
The Ambiguity of Symptoms
The first thing to understand is that individuals can display the symptoms of ADHD – things like distractibility or hyperactivity – some of the time. But that alone doesn’t necessarily mean they have ADHD. It could be a sign of a learning disorder or emotional issues, perhaps related to trauma. The ambiguous nature of symptoms and the lack of a specific physical test – e.g., a blood test or X-ray means an evaluation by a trained professional is necessary for a diagnosis of ADHD.
ADHD Evaluation and Diagnosis
It is important to know which professionals can make a diagnosis of ADHD which can include:
- Some physicians
You can ask your primary care physician or your child’s pediatrician for a recommendation if you’re not sure who to see. Once you are set up with the appropriate clinical professional, the assessment can begin. Typically, an evaluation consists of several steps.
Your symptoms are evaluated against the DSM as a first step in the process. There are 3 presentations of ADHD – inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive and combined. Several conditions must be met, regardless of the type, in order for a diagnosis of ADHD. These include:
- Several symptoms show up before the age of 12
- Observed symptoms are present in multiple settings – e.g., home, school, work
- The symptoms interfere with or reduce daily functioning
- The reported symptoms are not better explained by some other mental health condition
This interview helps the clinician determine your biggest problem and assess factors related to the symptoms. The interview can take several hours and delve into factors such as:
- Strengths and skills
- Family life
- Daily stressorsbased on evaluatons of large patient populations,
- For children: school performance
- For adults: work performance
- General health, including sleep and eating habits
- Family medical history
- Drug use
- Related and comorbid conditions
A full physical exam may be used to determine if the symptoms might be due to other underlying medical conditions.
Normed rating scales are generally used to help the clinician formulate the final diagnosis of ADHD.
ADHD is not curable at this point in time, but it can be managed. Treatment can involve a combination of medication, therapy and /or coaching. You can help make the treatment plan more effective by learning as much as possible about the condition and seeking support from family members, friends and support groups.
It is especially important to share any records, assessments or other documentation from the ADHD evaluation and diagnosis with your treatment provider(s).