ADHD in Children: When to See the Doctor

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on February 04, 2021

While you can't be sure on your own if your child has ADHD, their behavior may make you wonder. Is it ADHD, or is it just part of growing up? Whom can you ask to find out?

Often, it’s a teacher who notices possible symptoms. But teachers can’t diagnose ADHD. You can start by talking to your child's pediatrician. Ask if they have experience in diagnosing ADHD. Some pediatricians take additional coursework to become familiar with diagnosing the disorder and its medical management. Some do a fellowship specializing in ADHD and learning disabilities.

If your pediatrician isn't familiar with diagnosing ADHD, they can probably refer you to a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or psychologist who has that experience.

If your pediatrician does not work with therapists and psychologists, ask your child's school psychologist to do an evaluation, or ask the school counselor to recommend someone.

What to Expect in an ADHD Evaluation

When choosing a psychologist or other mental health professional, look for someone who has specific training in diagnosing and treating ADHD. This person's first task will be to put together information -- from you, your child's school and your child's medical records. This information will help rule out other causes of your child's behavior.

The therapist should learn as much as possible about your child's behavior. They will talk with you, your child, your child's teachers, and perhaps also with other adults such as tutors or coaches who are part of your child's life. They should also ask you and your child's teachers to fill out standardized evaluation forms. If possible, they may also observe your child in their classroom.

Also, the FDA has approved the use of the Neuropsychiatric EEG-Based Assessment Aid (NEBA) System, a noninvasive scan 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. The scan, approved for use in those aged 6 to 17 years, is meant to be used as a part of a complete medical and psychological exam.

If the process leads to an ADHD diagnosis, it should include the specific type of ADHD and help you develop a treatment plan to address the symptoms.

In most cases, an ADHD treatment plan will involve both ADHD medication and behavioral therapy, such as a program of rewards for appropriate behavior and consequences for inappropriate behavior, or a system to help inattentive children get organized. Sometimes the school can help with accommodations to your child’s learning and testing environment. If you choose treatment with ADHD medication you will need a prescription and follow-up from a medical doctor (such as your pediatrician, a pediatric psychiatrist, or a neurologist).

Some children diagnosed with ADHD may also be experiencing depression or anxiety. In such cases, therapy is often recommended as part of the treatment plan.

What You Can Do Now

If you are considering having your child evaluated for ADHD or are waiting for an appointment to start the diagnostic process, there are several things you can do in the meantime to help them now:

  • Establish a schedule. Make sure your child has the same routine every day. The schedule should include homework time and playtime. Post this schedule in a prominent place in your home.
  • Be clear about expectations. Make sure your child knows what you expect, and be consistent with consequences if those expectations are not met. At the same time, be quick to reward your child when they meet expectations.
  • Praise and be positive. Rather than nag and criticize your child, make a point of praising positive behaviors.
  • Help your child organize everyday items. Work with your child to have a place for everything. This includes clothing, backpacks, and school supplies.
  • Jog your child's memory. The same system you use to remember tasks or appointments -- a watch alarm, lists, sticky notes, or a calendar -- may work for your child. Help them find a system that helps them remember appointments, chores, school assignments, and so on.
  • Model good behavior. When you're with your child, manage your own emotions the way you want them to control theirs.

Show Sources


Walt Karniski, MD, developmental pediatrician; executive director, Tampa Day School, Florida.

National Institute of Mental Health: "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)."

Marjorie Montague, PhD, professor of special education, University of Miami.

FDA: "FDA permits marketing of first brain wave test to help assess children and teens for ADHD."

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info