The ADHD Child: Making a Diagnosis

Child ADHD DiagnosisHas your school-age child begun to show some of the behavioral or academic signs of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD?  Have you considered taking your child to see a doctor to either rule out ADHD or to get a confirmed diagnosis?  When parents notice their children are constantly running and climbing when it’s inappropriate, always interrupting other people’s conversations and consistently performing poorly in school, it might be time to see a doctor to see if ADHD might be the culprit, but this type of diagnosis is more difficult to obtain than most parents think.  There is no blood test or x-ray to check for the presence of ADHD.  Instead, diagnoses of this kind are based on the frequency and severity of a child’s symptoms, and whether those symptoms match the criteria set forth by the American Board of Psychiatry.  That is why it is so very important for parents to chart and make notes about their child’s behavior prior to the appointment.  Initially, this information is all doctors have to go on in determining the child’s condition.

Making a Diagnosis in an ADHD Child:  Who Will Be Involved and What Will They Do?

The initial appointment in making an ADHD diagnosis will usually take place with your family doctor or your child’s pediatrician.  You should bring notes about the symptoms your child is displaying, including any notes or information you can collect from your child’s school and teacher.  The doctor will interview you and your child—sometimes separately—to get an idea about what’s going on, including how and why the symptoms are affecting your child.  In most cases, your doctor will perform a complete physical exam to rule out any physical ailments that could be causing the problem, as well as some psychological batteries to rule out other behavioral and emotional disorders such as anxiety, depression and learning disabilities.  If your doctor believes the child is suffering from ADHD, he or she will probably refer you to a specialist who is trained in diagnosing and treating the disorder.  This specialist could be any one of the following:

  • Psychologist.  A child psychologist is trained in diagnosing ADHD in children, and can work the child and his/her family using techniques such as emotional and behavioral therapy, along with family counseling.
  • Psychiatrist.  Psychiatrists are doctors with a medical degree who can perform much of the same services as a licensed child psychologist, but they can also prescribe ADHD medication that may be needed to control your child’s symptoms.
  • Neurologist.  A neurologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the brain.  These specialists may run scans to check your child’s brain activity, and they can also diagnose ADHD, but in most cases these doctors will not be the primary health care provider once the disorder has been diagnosed.
  • Social Workers.  Social workers can be very beneficial providers for families coping with an ADHD child, providing child and family therapy and many other helpful services.

When you meet with the specialist who will ultimately provide services to your child, you will need to gather as much information about your child’s symptoms as you can, including any note from your child’s teacher.  Most specialists will have you complete a symptoms checklist, listing the different types of behaviors you have noticed both at home and at school.  The expert will also interview your child to see if he/she is exhibiting any of the classic signs of ADHD, which are generally hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention.

The ultimate ADHD diagnosis will be based on how your child’s symptoms measure according to the criteria we mentioned earlier, and based on that score he/she can receive one of three diagnoses, including:

  • ADHD predominantly hyperactive/impulsive
  • ADHD predominantly inattentive
  • ADHD Combined  (showing signs of both hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention)

While receiving a diagnosis of ADHD can often be scary for parents, it is certainly much better than not knowing and not being able to help.  Once diagnosed, children with ADHD can begin receiving numerous services, including medication and counseling, both of which can help to manage the problem symptoms so that children can be more successful, both socially and academically.