Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral disorder that affects millions of children and can continue into adulthood. As the awareness and understanding of ADHD increase, more parents are becoming concerned that their children are suffering from the condition. Understanding how to accurately diagnose the condition is vital to ensure that your children receive the appropriate treatment. Here’s what you should know about diagnosing ADHD.
Responsibility for diagnosis. Although awareness of ADHD is increasing, it is important to ensure that the diagnosis process is robust and accurate and that symptoms of another problem are not incorrectly attributed to ADHD. Parents and teachers may believe that they can recognize the symptoms of ADHD, but are not medically qualified to make any conclusive diagnosis. As highlighted by CNN, parents should therefore always ensure that a diagnosis is made by a doctor or suitably qualified health care practitioner.
Appropriate age for diagnosis. According to the Mayo Clinic, the signs and symptoms of the disorder must appear before the age of 7. While these symptoms vary from one child to another, ADHD can normally be recognized through problems with either inattentive behavior or through hyperactivity. The signs of ADHD may be noticeable in children as young as 2.
Diagnosing ADHD over normal behavior. Most children display some of the signs of ADHD at intervals during their development. A doctor will not diagnose ADHD based on a small incidence of hyperactivity or impulsive behavior. In order to diagnose ADHD, your doctor will look for symptoms that have lasted for six months or more and occur at home and at school. A doctor will also look for evidence that the behavior is consistently disruptive and is causing problems in relationships with others.
Official criteria. The American Psychiatric Association publishes a clear set of criteria that is intended to help practitioners define ADHD. These criteria can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV). As part of the process, a doctor must find evidence of signs and symptoms recorded under the two categories of inattention and hyperactivity. A diagnosis depends on identifying at least six signs or symptoms from each of these two lists.
Methods of diagnosis. In order to diagnose ADHD, your doctor is likely to use a series of questionnaires and interviews with your child. These will help the doctor build an informed picture over an appropriate period of time to reach the correct diagnosis. These interviews are likely to extend to your child’s teacher as well as other people that regularly spend time with your child, such as a babysitter or nanny. According to the Mayo Clinic, parents will also be interviewed. Diagnosing the condition in very young children can be very difficult, which means that your doctor may refer the case to a specialist psychiatrist.
Diagnosis in adults. According to the National Resource Center on ADHD, a diagnostic evaluation should be carried out in adults where the condition is suspected. This will normally comprise a series of questionnaires and assessments. For adults, this assessment should also include the workplace, and so the evaluation process will normally be extended to the employer. This process is comprehensive and can take place over a significant period of time. The evaluation cannot be conducted based solely on one or two brief visits.