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ADHD in Children Health Center

ADHD or Not? Why a Diagnosis Matters

Whether you suspect ADHD, or a teacher mentions it, an actual diagnosis is key.
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1. Go to the right professional.

"The best thing parents can do is identify, either in the school or the community, a mental health or health care professional who has expertise in ADHD," DuPaul says. Some schools have a psychologist on staff who can evaluate kids for ADHD. Other options include a child psychiatrist, a pediatrician who specializes in developmental problems, or a psychologist in your community.

Of course, most parents head to their pediatrician or family doctor. Sometimes these doctors are properly trained to make this diagnosis, he says -- but not always. If you go this route, ask the doctor about their background and comfort level in diagnosing ADHD.

2. Ask a lot of questions.

Parents should be ready to discuss with the health care provider:

  • How the child behaves and pays attention to tasks at home
  • The child's grades and behavior reports from school
  • The child's medical history
  • The family's history of medical, mood, and emotional issues
  • Steps they've taken to deal with the child's behavioral or attention problems

This may require filling out one or more rating scales that can help determine if ADHD -- or other problems such as anxiety or depression -- are causing symptoms.

3. Include the teacher.

To meet the definition of ADHD, symptoms must be causing problems in different places, such as home and school. 

"They tend to come out when the person, be it a child or adult, is doing something they find difficult or uninteresting," says Lenard Adler, MD. He's an NYU professor who has studied ADHD in children, teens, and adults. "A parent might say, 'I'm not quite sure what the teacher's talking about. Daniel can play video games for several hours and has no trouble paying attention.' But life isn't a video game. It's full of things that we find difficult or challenging."

As a result, you may need to ask your child's teacher to fill out rating scales or speak with the child's doctor or mental health care provider.

4. Expect more than an ADHD drug.

"It's not automatic that just because you have ADHD you're put on medication, though it may seem that way to folks," DuPaul says. "Medication is helpful for many kids, but it's not necessary in every case, and it's not sufficient in any case."

It's important to also help kids learn tactics to change their behaviors. Your child's doctor or mental health counselor may help you make a plan for that and teach it to your child. You may need to meet with your child's teacher to put this plan into action at school.

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