Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Diagnosing ADHD

Last Editorial Review: 2/21/2011

There is no single test used to diagnose attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. ADHD is diagnosed after a person has shown some or all of symptoms of ADHD on a regular basis for more than six months.

Diagnosing ADHD in Children

Health care providers, such as pediatricians and child psychologists can diagnose ADHD with the help of standard guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The diagnosis involves gathering information from several sources, including schools, caregivers, and parents. The health care provider will consider how a child's behavior compares with that of other children the same age.

Some symptoms suggestive of ADHD in children include inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity in a variety of ways. Many children with ADHD:

  • Are in constant motion
  • Squirm and fidget
  • Make careless mistakes
  • Often lose things
  • Do not seem to listen
  • Are easily distracted
  • Do not finish tasks

Learn more about the symptoms of ADHD in children.

To diagnose ADHD, your child should receive a full physical exam. That includes a discussion of medical history to screen for other conditions that may affect a child's behavior. Certain conditions that could mimic ADHD or cause the ADHD-like behaviors are:

Diagnosing ADHD in Adults

It is not easy for a health care provider to diagnose ADHD in an adult. Sometimes, an adult will recognize the symptoms of ADHD in himself or herself when a son or daughter is diagnosed. Other times, they will seek professional help for themselves and find that their depression, anxiety, or other symptoms are related to ADHD.

Symptoms of ADHD in adults include:

  • Chronic lateness and forgetfulness
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of organizational skills
  • Low self-esteem
  • Employment problems
  • Difficulty controlling anger
  • Impulsiveness

If these difficulties are not managed appropriately, they can cause emotional, social, occupational and academic problems in adults.

In order to be diagnosed with ADHD, an adult must have childhood-onset and persistent, current symptoms. ADHD symptoms continue as problems into adulthood for approximately 60% of children with ADHD. For an accurate diagnosis, the following are recommended:

  • A history of the adult's behavior as a child
  • An interview with the adult's life partner, parent, close friend, or other close associate
  • A thorough physical exam
  • Psychological testing

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Reviewed by Marina Katz, MD on February 21, 2011

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