ADD and ADHD: Discovery to Diagnosis, and what you need to know in between
Mood swings, listlessness, snap judgements and inability to pay attention: these are all classic symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, and all ‘symptoms’ we’ve had at one time or another. So how do we separate a boring day from an actual disorder?
While no medical, genetic, or physical test can be used to confirm ADHD in children and adults, a qualified mental healthcare professional or physician can gather information from multiple sources to give a credible diagnostic evaluation.
The most effective tools we have to gauge ADHD include symptoms checklists, detailed histories of previous and current behavior, interviews with friends, families, and teachers of the individual, and standardized behavior rating scales.
Some practitioners also test for cognitive ability and academic achievement to rule out a possible learning disability. Unlike some other medical conditions, ADHD can’t be diagnosed simply from brief office observations or speaking with the patient. The patient might not always exhibit ADHD symptoms when they visit the doctor and the history of the individual has to be taken into account.
Note: The information here is also relevant to those looking for a guide on Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). ADD and ADHD both mean essentially the same thing. ADD is no longer the appropriate terminology.
Who Can Diagnose ADHD?
Qualified professionals who can give expert ADHD diagnosis include physicians, clinical psychologists, and clinical social workers. Choosing one can be confusing at first but these tips will help:
- Consider recommendations from family, friends, and other professionals, such as doctors and therapists.
- Do some background research on your own. What are their professional and academic qualifications?
- Check the price they’re charging and what your insurance covers. Can your insurance pay for the ADHD evaluation, even in part, with this particular specialist?
Getting ADD / ADHN Diagnosed
It’s important to know the facts about getting diagnosed, for both adults and children. If it’s you, you need to know which next step are best to take. If it’s a child, you need to know your role in their recovery. Here’s how:
Most patients with ADHD learn about the existence of this condition in adulthood. Some will find out when their child gets diagnosed with it. As they learn more, they realize they may have it as well. Others will get caught up by the symptoms, forcing them to seek professional help.
You should take your diagnosis seriously. The healthcare provider may ask you to fill out and submit a questionnaire before beginning the evaluation. They may ask you to name one other person close to you that can play a role in the evaluation. To fully diagnose ADHD, expect the specialist to:
- Ask about the symptoms as well as how long they have lasted and the impact they have had in your life.
- Administer tests, such as checklists and exams, to evaluate your attention span.
- Talk to people close to you: Family, coworkers, and friends.
- Conduct a medical exam to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms.
But how do you know if you even need an evaluation? Consider this:
- Are you losing or quitting jobs too frequently?
- Are you performing as well as you could be at your job or school?
- Do you find it hard to handle daily activities, such as paying bills on time, managing household chores, and staying organized?
- Are you handling your relationships well? Maybe you forget important details, get upset over trivial things, and have trouble finishing tasks.
- Are you stressed out for not being able to meet goals and accomplish responsibilities?
If your answer is yes to most or all of these questions, then make an appointment with a qualified professional. When in doubt, consult someone close to you and make sure they understand that they must be honest in their answers.
With children, it’s important to have some kind of a team to help you with the diagnosis. As long as you have the help of other people in your child’s life, you can get to the bottom of their struggles and treat the condition early.
As a parent, your role in your child’s recovery ranges from emotional to practical:
- Provide emotional support through the diagnosis.
- Make sure that the specialist your child sees is qualified on all levels.
- Provide as much helpful information as you can. Understand that your openness and honesty about your child’s current and past adjustment is paramount.
- Monitor the speed and accuracy of the examination.
When it comes to children, several specialists are usually involved in the diagnosis. You’ll need to involve physicians, clinical and school psychologists, speech-language pathologists, clinical social workers, and learning specialists. All these can play an important role in the evaluation.
Just like with adults, no laboratory tests or imaging tests can give a perfect diagnosis. Clinicians will base their conclusions on symptoms and rule out other conditions. Remember, it’s best to be open and honest.
They may also:
- Obtain medical and family histories.
- Conduct a physical and/or neurological exam.
- Lead an interview with your child and their teachers.
- Use standardized tools to screen for ADHD.
- Observe your child at school, especially at play.
- Measure their IQ and social/emotional adjustment.
To get your child diagnosed:
- Make an appointment with a specialist.
- Communicate clearly with your child’s school. Call the principal and tell them you’re pursuing a diagnosis. The law requires public schools to assist you. You’ll find that, in most cases, they’re more than willing to make your child’s life better.
- As mentioned, you will need to give the professionals a full picture.
- Monitor the process as accurately as possible by regularly checking in with the healthcare providers. Don’t be pushy, just keep things moving.
- Should you doubt the quality of care your child has received, don’t hesitate to seek a second opinion from another specialist.
A proper ADHD diagnosis can help you lead a happier and more successful life. If you or your loved one is diagnosed with the condition, start treatment immediately –– the earlier the better. It’s a process and it will take time, persistence, and sometimes trial and error.
Just remember, ADHD is treatable, but that treatment depends wholly on you. You need to learn everything you can about the condition, and building support around you – be it family or otherwise – is key in managing the condition.
Please note that there are a slew of internet sites and sources around the topic, offering questionnaires and checklists on ADHD, but rarely will you find a standardized or scientifically validated questionnaire that can accurately help diagnose you or your loved one. The most accurate diagnosis that we recommend can only be provided by a qualified and licensed professional.