Are there specific ADHD tests the doctor might use?
We've become accustomed to blood tests or other expensive laboratory tests to help doctors make a conclusive diagnosis. So parents often ask for blood work or a brain scan to diagnose ADHD. There are, though, no specific laboratory tests, X-rays, or scans that can give an ADHD diagnosis.
Some laboratory tests may help diagnose other medical conditions that mimic ADHD. But they do not diagnose ADHD.
The best way to diagnose ADHD is through:
- The use of standardized questionnaires or rating scales that assess inattentiveness, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and combined behaviors
- Interviews with the parents, child, and teachers
- Personal observation
Which rating scales are used to assess ADHD symptoms?
When making a diagnosis, it's helpful if the doctor obtains one or more ADHD assessments or behavior checklists from the child's parents and the classroom teacher. If applicable, a teacher or caregiver from an after school program should also fill out an assessment. Some common rating scales used to assess children with ADHD include:
- The Vanderbilt Assessment Scale. This is a 55-question assessment tool. It reviews symptoms of ADHD according to the DSM-IV criteria. It also screens for co-existing conditions such as conduct disorder, oppositional-defiant disorder, anxiety and depression, and more.
- Behavior Assessment System for Children (BASC). This scale assesses such things as hyperactivity, aggression, and conduct problems. It also addresses anxiety, depression, attention and learning problems, and lack of certain essential skills.
- Child Behavior Checklist/Teacher Report Form. Among other things, this scale assesses physical complaints, aggressive or delinquent behavior, and withdrawal.
What are the DSM-IV criteria for diagnosing ADHD?
The DSM-IV is the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This manual is used by most physicians as they evaluate patients at risk for ADHD or other mental or behavioral disorders.
The DSM-IV criteria for ADHD includes specific behaviors that people with ADHD display. These behaviors include symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Children and adults who meet the DSM-IV criteria for ADHD may receive this diagnosis.
To be diagnosed with ADHD, the individual needs to meet either the first set or the second set of criteria below.
The first set focuses on symptoms of inattentiveness. ADHD would be diagnosed in someone who has six or more of the following symptoms. The symptoms would need to have been there for at least six months. And they would need to be inconsistent with the person's developmental level. The symptoms include:
- Often failing to give close attention to details or often making careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities
- Often having difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
- Often seeming not to listen when spoken to
- Often not following through on instructions and failing to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace
- Often finding it difficult to organize tasks and activities
- Often avoiding doing or disliking or being reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort
- Often losing things that are necessary for tasks or activities (for example, toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools)
- Often being easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
- Often being forgetful in daily activities