ADHD is a complex condition and is sometimes difficult 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 the family.
A physical exam and neurological assessment that includes screenings of vision, hearing, and verbal and motor skills. More tests may 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.
A noninvasive scan -- called the Neuropsychiatric EEG-Based Assessment Aid (NEBA) System -- that measures theta and beta brain waves. The theta/beta ratio has been shown to be higher in children and adolescents with ADHD than in children without it.
What Are the Treatments for ADHD?
The most effective treatment for ADHD is thought to be a combination of medication and psychological and behavioral 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 medications for treating ADHD. Stimulants often decrease hyperactivity and improve concentratiom. 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 and worn for about 9 hours.
A doctor needs to monitor the dosage of the stimulant medication closely, both to determine the most effective level of drug and to watch for any side effects. Generally, most side effects of stimulants are mild and may include decreased appetite, stomach aches, sleep problems, headaches, and an increase in 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 with preexisting heart disease. They may also worsen psychiatric conditions like depression or anxiety or cause a psychotic reaction in some individuals. Before your kids start taking an ADHD medicine, talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits.