ADHD is a complex condition and is sometimes tough to diagnose.
There is no single test for ADHD. Doctors diagnose ADHD in children and teens after discussing symptoms at length with the child and parents -- and possibly teachers -- and observing the child's behaviors. The doctor will also gather information about any similar problems that run in the family, and consider all possible causes.
To confirm a diagnosis of ADHD and/or learning differences, a battery of tests may be given to assess a child's neurological and psychological status. The tests should be given by a pediatrician or mental health provider with experience in diagnosing and treating ADHD. They include:
A medical and social history of both the child and their family
A physical exam and neurological assessment that includes screenings of vision, hearing, and verbal and motor skills. More tests may also be given if there is a possibility that hyperactivity is related to some other physical problem.
An evaluation of intelligence, aptitude, personality traits, or processing skills. These evaluations are often completed by the parents and teachers if the child is of school age.
What Are the Treatments for ADHD?
The most effective treatment for ADHD is thought to be a combination of medication and psychological therapies. Close cooperation among therapists, doctors, teachers, and parents is very important, and team meetings help.
Stimulants. Although there is considerable controversy about their possible overuse, stimulants are the most commonly prescribed drugs used to treat ADHD. Stimulants often calm hyperactivity. They include Adderall, Concerta, Dexedrine, Focalin, Quillivant XR, Ritalin, and Vyvanse. The newest formulations allow children to take the medicine only once a day. Daytrana is a stimulant that comes in the form of a skin patch that is applied once a day.
A doctor needs to monitor the dosage of the stimulant medication closely, both to check for the right level of drug and to watch for any side effects. Generally, most side effects are mild and may include less appetite, stomach aches, sleep problems, headaches, and more anxiety.
However, in rare cases, stimulants can have more serious side effects. For instance, some are linked to a higher risk of heart problems and sudden death in children. They may also worsen psychiatric conditions like depression or anxiety. Before your kids start taking an ADHD medicine, talk to a doctor about the risks and benefits.
Non-stimulants. Atomoxetine (Strattera) and clonidine (Catapres and Kapvay) are two non-stimulant drugs for ADHD. Another drug, approved for children aged 6 to 17, is Intuniv, which uses the same active ingredient as Tenex (guanfacine hydrochloride), a blood pressure medicine that has been used as an ADHD treatment.
Of course, these drugs have their own side effects and risks, and your doctor will want to watch for problems. In 2005, the FDA issued a public health advisory about rare reports of suicidal thinking in children and adolescents taking Strattera.
Other drugs. In some cases, doctors may try prescribing other antidepressant medications, such as drugs called SSRIs, including Effexor, Wellbutrin, and others.
Psychological therapy. Of the psychological therapies, behavior modification may be the most commonly recommended, particularly if the therapist helps parents learn techniques to help the child's behavior. It is often combined with specific educational interventions, such as help with learning skills. Psychotherapy is a valuable option, particularly if the child has low self-esteem.