ADHD Tests and Diagnosis, Is It ADHD or Something Else? Learn how attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is diagnosed in children and adults.
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Are you easily distracted, hopelessly confused, or often forgetful and wondering if attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is to blame? Do you look at your rambunctious, moody child and think it might be ADHD? Before jumping to conclusions, remember that diagnosing ADHD is not that easy. None of the symptoms of attention deficit disorder are abnormal in themselves. Most people feel distracted, unfocused, or restless at times. Even chronic hyperactivity or inattention does not necessarily equate to ADHD.
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There is no medical, physical or other test to diagnose ADHD, formerly known as ADD. A doctor or other health care professional should be involved to determine if you or your child has ADHD. You can expect them to use a number of different tools: a symptom checklist, answers to questions about past and present problems, or a medical exam to rule out other causes of symptoms.
Keep in mind that ADHD symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating and hyperactivity, can be confused with other disorders and medical problems, including learning disabilities and emotional problems, which require entirely different treatments. Just because it looks like ADHD doesn’t mean it is, so it’s important to get a thorough evaluation and diagnosis.
ADHD looks different in each person, so there is a wide range of criteria that help healthcare professionals reach a diagnosis. It is important to be open and honest with the professional conducting the assessment so that he or she reaches the most accurate conclusion.
To be diagnosed with ADHD, you or your child must have a combination of strong ADHD symptoms, namely hyperactivity, impulsivity, or inattention. A mental health professional evaluating the problem will also consider the following factors:
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How severe are the symptoms? To be diagnosed with ADHD, the symptoms must have a negative impact on your or your child’s life. In general, people who really have ADHD have major problems in one or more areas of their lives, such as careers, finances, or family responsibilities.
When did the symptoms start? Because ADHD begins in childhood, a doctor or therapist will look at how early symptoms appeared. If you’re an adult, can you trace symptoms back to your childhood?
How long have the symptoms bothered you or your child? Symptoms must last for at least 6 months before a diagnosis of ADHD is made.
When and where do symptoms appear? ADHD symptoms must be present in multiple settings, such as home and school. If symptoms occur in only one setting, it is unlikely that ADHD is to blame.
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Qualified professionals trained to diagnose ADHD may include clinical psychologists, physicians, or clinical social workers. Choosing a specialist can seem confusing at first. The following steps will help you find the right person to evaluate you or your child.
Get referrals. Doctors, therapists, and friends you trust can refer you to a particular specialist. Ask them questions about their choice and try their recommendation.
Do your homework. Find out the professional certificates and academic degrees of the professionals you are looking for. If possible, talk to former patients and clients and find out what their experience was like.
Feel free. Getting to know a specialist is an important part of choosing someone to evaluate you. Try to be yourself, ask questions and be honest with the professional. You may need to talk to a few professionals before you find the right person for you.
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Check the price and insurance. Find out how much the specialist costs and whether your health insurance covers part or all of the ADHD evaluation. Some insurance policies cover an ADHD evaluation by one type of specialist but not another.
Many people don’t learn about ADHD until they reach adulthood. Some find out after their children are diagnosed. When they become educated about the condition, they also realize that they have the disease. For others, the symptoms eventually exceed their coping skills, causing enough problems in daily life that they seek help. If you recognize the signs and symptoms of ADHD in yourself, schedule a visit with a mental health professional for an evaluation. Once you make that initial appointment, it’s normal to feel a little nervous about it.
If you know what to expect, the ADHD evaluation process isn’t confusing or scary. Many professionals will ask you to complete and return questionnaires before the assessment. You will probably be asked to nominate someone close to you who will also take part in one of the assessments. To determine if you have ADHD, you can expect the professional conducting the evaluation to do one or all of the following:
If you have significant problems with any of the following categories, you may want to be evaluated for ADHD.
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A team mentality can be helpful when looking for a diagnosis for a child. You are not alone and with the help of others you can get to the bottom of your child’s struggles. With professionals trained to diagnose ADHD, you can help quickly and accurately assess, leading to treatment.
When you are 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:
Usually, more than one specialist evaluates a child for ADHD symptoms. Physicians, clinical and school psychologists, clinical social workers, speech-language pathologists, learning specialists, and educators can all play an important role in the assessment of ADHD.
As in adults, no laboratory or imaging tests are available to make the diagnosis; Instead, doctors base their conclusions on observable symptoms and rule out other disorders. The specialist carrying out the assessment of your child will ask you a series of questions that you should answer honestly and openly. They may also:
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Doctors, specialists, ADHD tests—searching for a diagnosis for your child can seem a little overwhelming. With the following practical steps, you can remove much of the chaos from the process.
Make an appointment with a specialist. As a parent, you can initiate ADHD testing on behalf of your child. The sooner you schedule this appointment, the sooner you can get help for their ADHD.
Talk to your child’s school. Call your child’s principal and talk directly and openly about seeking your diagnosis. For example, public schools in the US are required by law to help you, and in most cases, staff want to help make your child’s school life better.
Give the professionals the full picture. When asked difficult questions about your child’s behavior, be sure to answer honestly. Your perspective is very important to the evaluation process.
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Keep things moving. You are your child’s advocate and you have the right to avoid delays in getting a diagnosis. Check with doctors or professionals often to see where you are in the process.
If necessary, ask for a second opinion. If you doubt that your child has received a thorough or appropriate assessment, you may want to seek help from another professional.
It’s normal to be upset or scared with an ADHD diagnosis. But remember, getting a diagnosis can be the first step in making life better. Knowing what you’re dealing with can help you get treatment—and that means taking control of your symptoms and feeling more confident in every area of your life.
A diagnosis of ADHD may seem like a label, but it may be more helpful to think of it as an explanation. The diagnosis explains why you may have had difficulty with life skills such as paying attention, following directions, listening attentively, organizing—things that seem to come easily to other people.
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In that sense, getting a diagnosis can be a relief. You can rest easy knowing that it wasn’t laziness or lack of intelligence on your part or your child’s, but rather a disorder that you can learn to manage.
Also, remember that an ADHD diagnosis is not a sentence of lifelong suffering. Some people only have mild symptoms, while others have more widespread problems. But no matter where you or your child land on the spectrum, there are many steps you can take to manage your symptoms.
It is important to understand that a diagnosis of ADHD does not rule out other mental health conditions. The following disorders are not diagnosed as ADHD, but sometimes co-exist with or are confused with ADHD:
Anxiety – Excessive worry that occurs frequently and is difficult to control. Symptoms include restlessness or tension, feeling tired easily, panic attacks, irritability, muscle tension and insomnia.
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Depression – symptoms include feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and self-loathing, as well as changes in sleeping and eating patterns and loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy.
Learning difficulties – problems with reading, writing or maths.
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