How Is ADHD Diagnosed in Children and Adults?


Reaching an ADHD Diagnosis

Reaching an ADHD Diagnosis

While there is no particular test used to diagnose ADHD, healthcare experts will typically diagnose a person with ADHD after they have shown few or all symptoms of ADHD regularly for more than six months.

Healthcare experts, such as primary care physicians, psychologist, psychiatrists, and pediatricians can diagnose ADHD by using the standard guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics or the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). To make an ADHD diagnosis, information must be acquired from several sources, including schools, caregivers, and parents. The healthcare specialist will then consider how a child’s or adult’s behavior compares with that of other children or adults the same age.

In this article, we will go more in-depth on how ADHD is diagnosed in children and adults.

Diagnosing ADHD in Children

“Kids will be kids.” “He’ll grow out of it.” “Five-year-olds are supposed to have a lot of energy.” “They ask too much of kids today.” These are just some of the responses you hear when you begin to discuss attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with people in your life as they attempt to minimize the problem or dismiss it entirely.

ADHD, like many other mental health disorders, is challenging to diagnose in children. This is primarily due to the idea that ADHD symptoms are just exaggerated versions of normal behaviors.

Everyone feels sad or nervous sometimes, but this does not mean they have a depression or anxiety diagnosis. Likewise, all kids will experience symptoms related to hyperactivity or poor attention, but that does not indicate they have ADHD. It means they are displaying normal and typical behavior for kids their age.

Know the Symptoms of ADHD in Children

To better understand the subtleties of ADHD, you must know the signs and symptoms of ADHD that represent the condition to know whether an ADHD diagnosis is appropriate. As the name describes, ADHD symptoms are separated into two categories: inattention and hyperactivity.

The attention symptoms of ADHD are:

  • Frequent mistakes
  • Difficulty paying attention for long periods
  • Trouble listening to others
  • Problems following directions and completing tasks and assignments
  • Being messy and losing needed items frequently
  • Managing time poorly
  • Avoids and dislikes tasks that require mental effort
  • Easily distracted by their surroundings
  • Difficulty remembering what others tell them

Hyperactivity symptoms are:

  • Being restless with fidgeting, tapping, squirming or making noises
  • Moving around rather than staying in seat or expected location
  • Running, climbing or moving quickly when not appropriate
  • Unable to play alone
  • Appearing to have an unlimited supply of energy
  • Trouble staying calm and quiet
  • Limited ability to take turns in conversations and will shout out answers
  • Difficulty waiting and being patient
  • Interrupts or bothers others by joining into a game or activity without being invited

At this point, you may be thinking your child shows all of these signs constantly or that they never do. You may think issues are only a concern at school or at home. You may think your child’s symptoms are not as bad as other children you know.

Tracking the Symptoms to Reach an ADHD Diagnosis

Paying attention to your thoughts is important but making interpretations of the symptoms is something you will not want to do. Instead, your job is only to become aware of ADHD symptoms and begin tracking these symptoms for your child.

Begin by tracking how long they are able to engage in specific tasks and ask questions of the people in their life.

  • Pay attention to how they respond to boredom and a lack of stimulation. Children with ADHD will have problems entertaining themselves and report being bored often.
  • Keep in mind many children with ADHD are fantastic video gamers because the games provide a constant level of stimulation they are looking to receive. Video games are not a test of attention. TV is another example of stimulation that requires little attention.
  • Note how they engage with others. Do children their age seem to like your child or become annoyed by them? With the poor impulse control and problems being patient, kids with ADHD will interrupt and try to tell others what to do.
  • Do teachers say they are fidgeting all day or seem to fade into the background of the class? Difficulty sitting still is a telltale sign of ADHD, but a child with ADHD predominately inattentive presentation can blend into the background of the classroom setting.

Focus only on gathering information at this point to keep your observations as unbiased and objective as possible. If you begin looking at specific information or behaviors too closely, you will change how it presents inadvertently.

You will do well to gather data from various environments that your child visits. Part of ADHD is that the symptoms exist in across settings. This means that if symptoms are only present at home, they do not have ADHD.

Seeking an ADHD Diagnosis for Your Child

ADHD symptoms are only an extension of normal behavior and knowing the difference between normal and abnormal takes a skilled professional. Because of this, consider scheduling an evaluation with a mental health professional to receive the diagnosis for your child.

Unfortunately, no definitive test clearly points to or away from an ADHD diagnosis. There are some helpful measures teachers, parents and children can complete to gain more information regarding an accurate diagnosis.

If you are only interested in obtaining information about a diagnosis, any of these professionals are suitable options. If you are interested in receiving medication as a possible treatment, the evaluation will need to be with someone that can prescribe medication. Medical doctors like psychiatrists and pediatricians will be able to provide this treatment with some ability of psychologists and nurse practitioners depending on your location.

Arriving at the diagnosis of ADHD for your child is as much of an art as it is a science since the symptoms are simple extensions of normal functioning. Want to diagnose your child? Don’t.

Spend your energy tracking symptoms and scheduling an appointment for a reputable mental health professional. This way an ADHD diagnosis will be made the right way.

Next page: Information on receiving an adult ADHD diagnosis, and more.

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