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ADHD diagnosis

How is ADHD diagnosed?

There is no single test to diagnose attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and it is difficult to diagnose. Many of the symptoms, such as inattention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity, can also be a common part of a non-ADHD child's development.

Sometimes the more formal setting of starting school leads to an ADHD diagnosis, while some people may not be diagnosed until they are adults.

Parents who think their child may have ADHD should seek medical advice.

Diagnosing ADHD

The doctor will ask questions to find out about symptoms and behaviour, when they started and whether these are affecting daily life. Problems like being unable to make friends, or not being able to wash or feed themselves, are called functional impairment.

The doctor will want to know whether ADHD symptoms happen at home or at school, or both.

They'll ask whether there's a family history of ADHD, as it may have a genetic component.

The doctor will also ask about other health conditions and about any major changes in family life, such as divorce or the death of a close family member.

ADHD referral

The GP may refer the child to a specialist for further assessment and a formal diagnosis.

This could be a child or adult psychiatrist, a paediatrician or local child mental health services.

Their assessment will include a physical examination, interviews with the child and parents, plus reports from other important people in the child's life, including teachers.

ADHD diagnosis criteria

To have a formal diagnosis of ADHD, a child must also have must have 6 or more symptoms of inattentiveness, or 6 or more symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

They must also have been showing ADHD symptoms continuously for at least 6 months, and the symptoms should have been apparent before the age of 12.

Symptoms also have to be displayed in at least 2 different settings, such as school and home.

The child's symptoms also need to be shown to cause problems in their life socially or in school progress.

The assessment will also rule out symptoms due to another condition or developmental disorder.

The diagnosis of a specific type of ADHD, such as hyperactive-impulsive, will depend on the number of symptoms displayed from each group of symptoms - hyperactivity, impulsiveness and inattentiveness.

Adult ADHD diagnosis

To be diagnosed with ADHD for the first time as an adult, symptoms will need to have been experienced from childhood.

This may involve digging out old school records or talking to former teachers.

For a formal adult ADHD diagnosis, symptoms will need to show some impairment in areas of daily life. These may include underachievement at work, dangerous driving, problems with making friends and relationships, and problems with everyday activities like shopping.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on September 08, 2017

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