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.
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.