Diagnosing ADHD in Children
Although some pediatricians with special training in the disorder will diagnose ADHD in children, most will refer you and your child to a mental health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, or social worker trained in diagnosing and treating the disorder.
You can also find a professional who specializes in ADHD diagnosis through your health plan, your child’s teacher or school counselor, other parents of children with ADHD, or nonprofit organizations such as Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD).
ADHD Types and Symptoms
There are three types of ADHD: hyperactivity-impulsivity, inattention, or a combination of both types. Different types of ADHD involve different symptoms in children.
The person who evaluates your child will check on symptoms for each type:
Often fidgets with hands or
, or squirms in seat
Often gets up from seat
Often has trouble enjoying quiet activities
Often runs or climbs where not appropriate
Often talks too much
Often blurts out answer before questions have been finished
Often has trouble waiting his or her turn
Often interrupts others
Often makes careless mistakes in schoolwork or other activities
Often has trouble focusing on tasks or activities
Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
Often has trouble organizing activities
Often does not follow instructions
Often loses things needed for tasks or activities
Although many children display some of the behaviors for ADHD, they do not necessarily have the disorder. An ADHD diagnosis requires that these behaviors have been persistent for at least 6 months, that some symptoms began before age 7, that symptoms are present in two or more settings (such as school and home), and that they significantly impair the child in their social life or at school.
Diagnosing ADHD in Children
The first step toward diagnosing ADHD should be a full
by your child’s pediatrician or family practitioner to rule out other medical causes for his or her behaviors. The physician, psychologist, or other mental health professional evaluating your child for ADHD will probably then set up an interview with you and two or more sessions with your child before making a final diagnosis.
The evaluator will check on other possible causes of your child’s behavior. To do this, they will check your child’s medical and school records, and ask about what else is going on in your child's life. They may also give your child tests to determine if there might be a learning disorder or some other mental or emotional problem that may be causing the behaviors.
It's possible that your child's behavior isn't related to a condition. If they've been through a major life change (such as a move or a divorce, for example), that might also be affecting their behavior. Figuring out what's going on is all part of the evaluation process.
The evaluation may also include interviewing you, your child's teachers, and any other adults who are a big part of your child's life. The evaluator may also ask each of you to complete standardized forms, known as “behavior rating scales,” to rate different aspects of your child’s behavior.