Diagnosis of ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a problem of not being able to focus, being overactive, not being able control behavior, or a combination of these. For these problems to be diagnosed as ADHD, they must be out of the normal range for a person's age and development.

Source: MentalHealth.gov (DHHS)1

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Back to: « ADHD

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How do I know if my child has ADHD?

Your child’s doctor may make a diagnosis. Or sometimes the doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist who is more experienced with ADHD to make a diagnosis.

There is no single test that can tell if your child has ADHD. To make a diagnosis, the doctor or specialist will examine your child and use several rating scales to track ADHD symptoms. The specialist will also collect information from you, your family, and your child’s teachers.

Sometimes it can be hard to diagnose a child with ADHD because symptoms may look like other problems. For example, a child may seem quiet and well-behaved, but in fact he or she is having a hard time paying attention and is often distracted. Or, a child may act badly in school, but teachers don't realize that the child has ADHD.

If your child is having trouble at school or at home and has been for a long time, ask his or her doctor about ADHD.

Source: NIMH (NIH)2

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Our society has become more aware of ADHD as a condition that affects adults as well as children, and there are many adults who struggle with this disorder. At the same time, other life stressors or mental health conditions can cause similar symptoms. Consider getting an evaluation from a psychiatrist or psychologist who has experience in diagnosing ADHD. Getting an evaluation can help you find the right answer to your struggles and identify the treatment you need to feel better.

Source: NIMH (NIH)3

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Diagnosis of ADHD requires a comprehensive evaluation by a licensed clinician, such as a pediatrician, psychologist, or psychiatrist with expertise in ADHD. For a person to receive a diagnosis of ADHD, the symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity must be chronic or long-lasting, impair the person’s functioning, and cause the person to fall behind normal development for his or her age. The doctor will also ensure that any ADHD symptoms are not due to another medical or psychiatric condition.

Source: NIMH (NIH)4

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“Kids with ADHD are impaired in their functioning in school, with friends, in activities, at home, or in the community,” says Dr. Benedetto Vitiello, a psychiatrist and child mental health expert at NIH. “The diagnosis is made because the level of hyperactivity or lack of concentration is extreme and prevents the child from engaging in what would be expected activities appropriate to their development.”

Children with ADHD usually get diagnosed around age 7, but more severe cases may be identified earlier. Often a teacher or parent notices the child seems out of control and has more serious and persistent behavior problems than other kids the same age.

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)5

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There’s no single test to diagnose ADHD. If you’re concerned about it, talk with your child’s doctor or a mental health specialist.

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)6

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Effective treatments are already available for ADHD. See your doctor if you suspect your child may have a problem.

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)7

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Diagnosing ADHD

Children mature at different rates and have different personalities, temperaments, and energy levels. Most children get distracted, act impulsively, and struggle to concentrate at one time or another. Sometimes, these normal factors may be mistaken for ADHD.

ADHD symptoms usually appear early in life, often between the ages of 3 and 6. Since symptoms vary from person to person, the disorder can be hard to diagnose. Parents may first notice that their child loses interest in things sooner than other children, or seems constantly "unfocused" or "out of control." Often, teachers notice the symptoms first, when a child has trouble following rules, or frequently "spaces out" in the classroom or on the playground.

No single test can diagnose a child as having ADHD. Instead, a licensed health professional needs to gather information about the child and his or her behavior and environment.

Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH)8

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To be diagnosed with the disorder, a child must have symptoms for six or more months and to a degree that is greater than other children of the same age.

Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH)9

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Diagnosing Adults

Like children, adults who suspect they have ADHD should be evaluated by a licensed mental health professional. But the professional may need to consider a wider range of symptoms when assessing adults for ADHD because their symptoms tend to be more varied and possibly not as clear cut as symptoms seen in children.

Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH)10

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  1. Source: MentalHealth.gov (DHHS): mentalhealth.gov/ what-to-look-for/ behavioral-disorders/ adhd.html
  2. Source: NIMH (NIH): nimh.nih.gov/ health/ publications/ attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-basics/ index.shtml
  3. Source: NIMH (NIH): nimh.nih.gov/ health/ publications/ could-i-have-adhd-qf-16-3572/ index.shtml
  4. Source: NIMH (NIH): nimh.nih.gov/ health/ topics/ attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/ index.shtml
  5. Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): newsinhealth.nih.gov/ issue/ sep2014/ feature2
  6. ibid.
  7. Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): newsinhealth.nih.gov/ 2008/ November/ feature1.htm
  8. Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH): medlineplus.gov/ magazine/ issues/ spring14/ articles/ spring14pg15-16.html
  9. Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH): medlineplus.gov/ magazine/ issues/ spring14/ articles/ spring14pg17.html
  10. Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH): medlineplus.gov/ magazine/ issues/ spring14/ articles/ spring14pg19.html

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Note: This site is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. See your doctor or other qualified medical professional for all your medical needs.