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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.

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.

Important factors
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:

  • Severity of symptoms. To be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, symptoms must have a negative impact on the person’s education, career, relationships, or social life.
  • When symptoms started. Since ADD/ADHD starts in childhood, the doctor or therapist will look at how early the symptoms appeared.
  • How long symptoms have been present. Symptoms must have been going on for at least 6 months before ADD/ADHD can be diagnosed.
  • When and where symptoms appear. The symptoms of ADD/ADHD must be present in multiple settings, such as at home and school. If the problem only appears in one environment, it is unlikely to be caused by ADD/ADHD.


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