Diagnosing ADHD

Diagnosing ADHD in children is usually performed by health professionals, such as child psychologists, child psychiatrists or developmental and behavioral pediatricians who specialize in this disorder. There is no blood testing involved in the diagnosis, instead, the child will be asked to undergo a series of ADHD quizzes. Parents, guardians or caregivers, as well as the child's teachers, may also be asked to fill out questionnaires in relation to the child's behavior. Thus, much of the diagnosis for determining ADHD involves gathering of data or information.

In the United States, medical experts diagnosing ADHD follow sets of guidelines, as stipulated by the American Academy of Pediatrics. A diagnosis is made only if the child has exhibited symptoms of ADHD six months in at least two different settings. These guidelines follow closely the DSM IV ADHD criteria.

Physical Examination

Physical Exam

As with most diagnosis, undergoing a physical examination is normal procedure. This is done because doctors or specialists need to rule out all other problems, such as vision or hearing difficulty, which may have little to do with ADHD and may be an indicator of other kinds of disorders. If necessary, the child may also have to undergo a neurological examination.

Family Medical History

Since experts believe ADHD is hereditary, a look into the medical history of the family is an important part of the diagnosis. Records of allergies, growth or development, diet and nutrition, as well as known family diseases, can help the specialist make a proper assessment. Normally, they will also ask for records of the mother's pregnancy and birth.

Home and School Environment

Apart from reviewing the medical history of the family, the specialist will need to discuss situations at home. The arrival of a new baby, a move to a different location, or a divorce may be considered stress factors that can trigger development of ADHD behavior. Even a baby sitter's contribution will be helpful in making the diagnosis.

The specialist will also evaluate the child's school environment to pinpoint areas or social situations that may be causing stress. Just like family members, teachers and teacher aides will be asked to answer questionnaires in relation to the child's behavior.

ADHD Questionnaires

Most medical professionals make use of the following questionnaires in diagnosing ADHD:

  • ACTeRs or the ADD-H Comprehensive Teacher Rating Scale

  • ADHD Rating Scale-IV

  • CAP or Child Attention Problems Rating Scale

  • Child Behavior Checklist

  • Conners Teacher or Parents Rating Scales

  • Russell Barkley's Home and School Situations Questionnaires

IQ Testing

While it is not always a part of the process, IQ tests may also be also be part of the diagnosis process, especially if the child's performance in school has significantly changed. These IQ tests will help identify if the child has a learning disability or if the disinterest is only with some parts of the curriculum. While some tests may actually link ADHD and the gifted child, most people usually see the disruptive behavior and focus on this, rather than the child's special abilities.

When enough data has been gathered in diagnosing ADHD, the specialists can begin profiling the child and identify if the patterns of behavior are indicative of a hyperactive, impulsive or inattentive type of disorder. The specialists will also recommend the best treatment or management so that families can better cope with this condition.


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