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|Written by littlebopeep1|
|01 March 2010|
Diagnosing Attention Deficit Disorder in Children and Adults
Diagnosis for ADD/ADHD is a powerful step toward relief from its symptoms—and the process toward getting this diagnosis doesn’t have to be confusing. There are a variety of health care professionals whose jobs are to help you diagnose and treat ADD/ADHD, and steps you can take to get started on your own.
Whether you are seeking a diagnosis for yourself or your child, educating yourself about the evaluation for ADD/ADHD—from the many specialists available to what a diagnosis really means—can help you feel more confident about your role in the diagnostic process. And most importantly, obtaining and understanding a proper diagnosis of ADD/ADHD can get you on the path toward help and treatment
Diagnosing ADD / ADHD: What you need to know
There is no single medical, physical, or other test for diagnosing ADD/ADHD. To determine if you or your child has ADD/ADHD, a doctor or other health professional will need to be involved, and you can expect him or her to use a number of different tools: a checklist of symptoms, answers to questions about past and present problems, or a medical exam to rule out other causes for symptoms. Keep in mind that the symptoms of ADD/ADHD, such as concentration problems and hyperactivity, can be confused with other disorders and medical problems. Just because it looks like ADD/ADHD doesn’t mean it is, so getting a thorough assessment and diagnosis is important.
Finding out that you or your child has been diagnosed with something—whether it’s an ear infection, a learning disability, or ADD/ADHD—may feel at first scary or intimidating. In fact, an ADD/ADHD diagnosis can be the first step toward making life better: you can seek treatment immediately, and that means managing symptoms and feeling more confident in every area of life.
Making the ADD / ADHD diagnosis
ADD/ADHD looks different in every person, so there is a wide array of criteria—or measures for testing—to help health professionals reach a diagnosis. It is important to be open and honest with the specialist conducting your evaluation so that he or she can come to the most accurate conclusion.
To be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, you or your child must display a combination of strong ADD/ADHD hallmark symptoms, namely hyperactivity, impulsivity, or inattention. The mental health professional assessing the problem will also look at other factors. This set of criteria may include:
When many people think of attention deficit disorder, they picture an out-of-control, hyperactive kid. But this is only one possible picture. The symptoms of ADD/ADHD are unique to each person and look different in adults and kids. To learn more about the common signs and symptoms, read:
Qualified professionals trained in diagnosing ADD/ADHD can include clinical psychologists, physicians, or clinical social workers. Choosing a specialist can seem confusing at first. The following are steps you can take toward finding the right person to evaluate you or your child.
Find an ADD / ADHD specialist
Search the CHADD Professional Directory for treatment professionals and organizations offering help for children and adults with ADD / ADHD.
Many people only learn that they have ADD/ADHD when they become adults. Some find out after their children receive the diagnosis; as they become educated about the condition, they realize that they also have it. For others, the symptoms finally outpace their coping skills, causing significant enough problems in their daily life that they seek help. If you recognize the signs and symptoms of ADD/ADHD in yourself, schedule a visit with a mental health professional for an assessment. Once you make that important appointment, being somewhat nervous about it is normal.
Do you have adult ADD / ADHD?
Click here to take the World Health Organization’s 6-question Adult Self-Report ADHD screening test (PDF).
If you know what to expect, the process for evaluating ADD/ADHD isn’t confusing or scary. Many professionals will start by asking you to fill out and return questionnaires before an evaluation. You'll probably be asked to name someone close to you who will also take part in some of the evaluation. To determine if you have ADD/ADHD, you can expect the specialist conducting the evaluation to do any or all of the following:
Should I be evaluated for adult ADD / ADHD?
Most adults who need to be evaluated for ADD/ADHD have serious problems with concentration or paying attention, or are overactive in one or more areas of living. Ask yourself if you have problems with any of the following categories:
When seeking a diagnosis for your child, it can be helpful to have a team mentality; you are not alone and with the help of others, you can get to the bottom of your child’s struggles. Together with specialists trained in diagnosing ADD/ADHD, you can help bring about a swift and accurate assessment that leads to treatment.
Your role as a parent
When seeking a diagnosis for your child, you are your child’s best advocate and most important source of support. As a parent in this process, your roles are both emotional and practical. You can provide or ensure:
The doctors’ or specialists’ role
Usually, more than one professional is typically involved in the assessment process for ADD/ADHD in children. Physicians, clinical psychologists, school psychologists, clinical social workers, speech-language pathologists, learning specialists, and educators may each play an important role in the ADD/ADHD evaluation.
As with adults, there are no laboratory or imaging tests available to determine a diagnosis; instead, clinicians base their conclusions on the observable symptoms and by ruling out other disorders. The specialist who conducts your child’s evaluation will ask you a range of questions that you should open honestly and openly. He or she may also:
Simple steps, big difference: getting your child evaluated for ADD/ADHD
Doctors, specialists, testing—it may all feel a little overwhelming to figure out a diagnosis for your child. You can take a lot of the chaos out of the process with the following practical steps.
It’s normal to feel nervous or disappointed by a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD. Understanding what the diagnosis really means can make you feel a whole lot better—it may even lead to feelings of relief, as you can finally put a name to the symptoms you or your child has been suffering. A diagnosis can be the first step toward taking control of your ADD/ADHD symptoms.
What does an ADD / ADHD diagnosis mean?
An ADD/ADHD diagnosis may feel like a label, but it can be more helpful to think of it as an explanation. The diagnosis explains why you may have struggled with things like paying attention, following directions, listening closely, organization—things that seem to come easily to unaffected peers. You can rest better knowing that it wasn’t laziness or a lack of intelligence standing in your way—or your child’s—but rather a disorder that you can do something about.
An ADD/ADHD diagnosis means that you or your child has a common disorder of the brain—one that is different for each individual. Some people have mild ADD/ADHD with only a few symptoms or problems. Others have more serious ADD/ADHD with more or worse symptoms. It runs in some families, so it may be inherited, but anyone can have it. An ADD/ADHD diagnosis does not mean you are in for a lifetime of suffering. Although the disorder lacks one guaranteed cure, there is actually a lot you can do to reduce the symptoms of ADD/ADHD.
Co-existing conditions and ADD / ADHD
It is important to understand that an ADD/ADHD diagnosis does not rule out other mental health conditions. The following disorders are not part of an ADD/ADHD diagnosis but sometimes co-occur with ADD/ADHD:
A diagnosis of ADD/ADHD can be a great wake up call—it can give you the extra push you need to seek help for the symptoms that are getting in the way of your happiness and success. If you or your child is diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, don’t wait to start treatment. The earlier you begin treating the symptoms, the better.
Exploring your ADD / ADHD treatment options
There are many effective treatments for ADD/ADHD, including therapy, coaching, exercise, and diet and lifestyle changes. Medication is not the only option. In fact, the best way to treat ADD/ADHD is to tackle it from multiple sides. The more strategies and skills you have up your sleeve, the better able you’ll be to manage your symptoms.
Managing ADD/ADHD takes work. Finding the right treatments for you or your child is a process—one that takes time, persistence, and trial and error. But you can help yourself along the way by keeping the following concepts in mind: much as you can about ADD/ADHD, getting plenty of support, and adopting healthy lifestyle habits.
ADD/ADHD Parenting Tips
Self-Help for Adult ADD/ADHD
More Helpguide articles
Related links for ADD / ADHD diagnosis
Diagnosing ADD / ADHD
Identifying and Treating ADHD: A Resource for School and Home (PDF) – In-depth guide to the diagnosis and treatment of ADD / ADHD in children. (U.S. Department of Education)
ADHD: Diagnosis Dilemma – Explore the complexities of diagnosing ADD / ADHD in adults. (Psychology Today)
Defining and Diagnosing ADHD – Offers several brief, informative articles describing the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, how children are diagnosed, and the challenges of diagnosing and treating ADD / ADHD. (PBS.org)
Getting a Diagnosis– See “AAP Guidelines,” “Getting a diagnosis through the school system,” and “Specialists for diagnosing ADHD.” (MyADHD.com)
Finding professional help for ADD / ADHD
CHADD Professional Directory – Once you accept the CHADD agreement, choose a type of professional from the dropdown menu beginning with Any Category. (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)
Attention Deficit Disorder Resources – A directory of providers for professional help with ADD / ADHD. Broaden your search if you don’t get enough providers in your initial search. (Attention Deficit Disorder Resources)
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