What is the diagnosis process for ADHD?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is often diagnosed by a doctor using established guidelines after consideration of long-term symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Be prepared to answer questions about such symptoms. A medical examination probably will be required to eliminate other possible causes of symptoms.

Constance Mofunanya, DNP
Pediatric Nursing Specialist
Diagnosis of ADHD by DSM-IV criteria require that symptoms criteria must be present in at least two settings (home and school), and present before age 7. Diagnosis of attention deficit requires at least 6 of the 9 possible symptoms. Diagnosis of the hyperactivity-impulsivity type requires at least 6 of the 9 symptoms.

Specific symptoms of inattention are:
  • Dose not pay attention to detail
  • Has difficulty sustaining attention at school
  • Dose not seem to listen when spoken to
  • Does not follow through on instructions or finish task
  • Has difficulty organizing task
  • Avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that requires sustained mental effort
  • Often losses things
  • Is easily distracted
  • Is forgetful
Specific symptoms of hyperactivities are:
  • Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms
  • Often leaves seat in class room or elsewhere
  • Often runs about or climbs excessively
  • Has difficulty playing quietly
  • Often on the g, acting as if driven by motor
  • Often talks excessively
Specific symptoms of Impulsivity:
  • Often blurts out answers before question are completed
  • Often has difficulty awaiting turn
  • Often interrupts and intrudes on others

Most cases are diagnosed by a pediatrician, but there’s no single test for the disorder. The diagnosis is made after a complete physical exam, an extensive medical history, and a long talk with your doctor about what you’ve been noticing at home. And that’s not all. Next, your doctor will talk to your child’s teachers (and a school psychologist, if there is one) and ask them to make observations and fill out questionnaires and rating scales. (Many teachers are achingly familiar with this drill.) That information gathering will help evaluate possible coexisting concerns, such as a learning disability, depression, or an anxiety disorder.

From The Smart Parent's Guide: Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, and Accidents by Jennifer Trachtenberg.

The Smart Parent's Guide: Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, and Accidents

More About this Book

The Smart Parent's Guide: Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, and Accidents

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do! "Moms and dads need expert guidelines, especially when it comes to their kids' health. This book reveals the inside strategies I use myself-I'm a parent, too!-to avoid critical, common blunders where it matters most: in the ER, pediatrics ward, all-night pharmacy, exam room, or any other medical hot spot for kids. These tips could save your child’s life one day. Even tomorrow." -Dr. Jen Making health care decisions for your child can be overwhelming in this age of instant information. It's easy to feel like you know next to nothing or way too much. Either way, you may resort to guessing instead of making smart choices. That’s why the nation's leading health care oversight group, The Joint Commission, joined forces with Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg on this book: to help you make the right decisions, whether you're dealing with a checkup or a full-blown crisis. The Smart Parent's Guide will give you the information you need to manage the pediatric health care system. Dr. Jen understands the questions parents face—as a mom, she's faced them herself. She walks you through everything: from how to choose the best ER for kids (not adults) to when to give a kid medicine (or not to) to how pediatricians care for their own children (prepare to be surprised). Her goal is your goal: to protect the health of your children. There simply is nothing more important.
Dr. Diana K. Blythe, MD

ADHD is diagnosed using diagnostic testing, like Vanderbilt scoring scales. Symptoms must be present by a certain age, exist in more than one setting, and affect quality of life. For instance, a child who fits criteria for ADHD at home, but not at school will not likely be diagnosed with ADHD. In addition, your pediatrician will want to rule out other medical reasons. Something as simple as poor sleep hygiene or poor sleep quality may masquerade as ADHD.

Learn how to identify ADHD in this video from Discovery Health.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.