Although many attempts have been made to identify ADHD using standardized psychological testing, there is no standard test or set of tests to diagnose ADHD. The diagnosis is a matter of degree and must be made by a mental health professional with experience in this area who has thoroughly assessed your child’s behavior in a variety of situations.
Family and teachers or employers (in the case of teens or adults) must be involved in this process. All the elements of the evaluation are matters of opinion, expectation, and comparison. Furthermore, all the behaviors associated with ADHD are normal, to some degree, in all children at certain stages of development.
It is important to identify other possible causes for the inappropriate behavior. This may include:
Children with ADHD often have other problems, such as:
Comprehensive testing and evaluation is key to properly assessing your child.
The most detailed diagnostic criteria are found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Because most cases of ADHD are diagnosed in childhood, diagnostic criteria are geared toward children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the following guidelines be used for diagnosis in children 4-18 years old:
Evaluation should be initiated if a child shows signs of:
During diagnosis, the following information should be gathered directly from parents, caregivers, teachers, or other school professionals:
The healthcare professional should examine the child for other conditions that might be causing or aggravating symptoms, such as:
For a diagnosis of ADHD to be made, symptoms must:
Connors Continuous Performance Testing (CPT), a computerized attention test, is often used to help confirm the diagnosis of ADHD. Examples of standardized behavior checklists that also assist in diagnosing ADHD include:
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Text Revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2013.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd.html. Accessed August 14, 2012.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T231898/Attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-ADHD-in-adults. Updated November 23, 2015. Accessed October 6, 2016.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113926/Attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-ADHD-in-children-and-adolescents. Updated September 30, 2016. Accessed October 6, 2016.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder/index.shtml. Accessed August 14, 2012.
Stern T, Rosenbaum J, Fava M, Biederman J, Rauch S. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2008.
Understanding ADHD: Information for parents. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/adhd/Pages/Understanding-ADHD.aspx. Accessed August 14, 2012.
10/28/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113926/Attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-ADHD-in-children-and-adolescents: Subcommittee on Attention-deficit/hyperactivity Disorder, Steering Committe on Quality Improvement and Management. ADHD: clinical practice guideline for the diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2011;128(5):1007-1022.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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