Contributors: Michael J. Manos, PhD; Kimberly Giuliano, MD; and Eric Geyer, BA
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The teachers say your son keeps fidgeting with his pencils when he should be doing his math work. He’s getting out of his chair too often. He’s having trouble focusing.
Your daughter seems to be in a world of her own. Teachers say they have to repeat directions multiple times and redirect her throughout the day.
Could your child have Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?
How doctors diagnose ADHD
ADHD has become the most common behavioral disorder in children. Successful treatment often involves a combination of drug and behavioral therapy, fine-tuned and adapted for each child.
When it comes to diagnosis and the process of uncovering what may be creating hurdles for your child, it’s important as a parent to stay actively involved.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there is no single test to diagnose ADHD, and many other problems, like anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and certain types of learning disabilities, can have similar symptoms.
For a proper diagnosis, you need to see your child’s pediatrician, psychologist, or psychiatrist with expertise in ADHD. This clinician should analyze symptom criteria from at least two sources across two settings (home and school, for example).
To explain further, clinicians base diagnosis on a standard described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This requires evidence of a persistent pattern of inattention or hyperactivity/impulsivity, or both:
- With a severity that interferes with developmental functioning in two or more settings
- That were present before your child turned 12
- That cannot be accounted for by another behavioral health disorder, such as depression, anxiety or trauma
When you look at your doctor’s ADHD symptom list, the diagnosis should document the presence of at least six of nine symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactive/impulsive behavior.
If your child is age 17 or older, only five symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactive/impulsive behavior need to be present. These symptoms are best documented when reported by at least two observers.
All this important research should be done before starting medication therapy.
Symptoms can change over time
It’s important to note that as children with ADHD get older, their symptoms can change.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, young children tend to experience hyperactivity-impulsivity. As they start elementary school, a child’s symptoms may shift to inattention. As adolescents, they may become less hyperactive but may struggle with feelings of restlessness, inattention and impulsivity.
A good way to start if you suspect ADHD is to take the symptoms questionnaire from the CDC, print it and take it with you to see your child’s doctor. This can offer a good starting point for discussion.