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How is ADHD diagnosed?

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) should be diagnosed only by a qualified health professional who is experienced in working with ADHD. This person may be a neurologist, psychiatrist, pediatrician, a general medical practitioner, a clinical social worker, or a psychologist. Sometimes families may be alerted to the possibility of ADHD by a school psychologist. It is very important that the individual be knowledgeable about ADHD and have experience in working with families with ADHD.

A comprehensive evaluation should include:

  • a thorough medical and developmental history behavior rating forms which can give a better indication of type and severity of symptoms from both parents and teachers
  • a screening for learning problems
  • a screening for other emotional or mental health problems

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a diagnosis applied to children and adults who consistently display certain characteristic behaviors over a period of time. The most common core features include:

  • distractibility (poor sustained attention to tasks)
  • impulsivity (impaired impulse control and delay of gratification)
  • and sometimes
  • hyperactivity (excessive activity or physical restlessness)

In order to meet diagnostic criteria, these behaviors must be excessive, long-term, and pervasive. The behaviors must appear before age seven, and continue for at least six months. A crucial consideration is that the behaviors must create a real handicap in at least two areas of a person's life, such as school, home, work, or social settings. These criteria set ADHD apart from the normal distractibility and impulsive behavior of childhood, or the effects of a hectic and over stressed lifestyle prevalent in our society.

The diagnostic criteria characteristics and sub-types of ADHD are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). After years of study, DSM-IV has made it official that there are subtypes of ADHD. There is ADHD with hyperactivity called the Predominately Impulsive Type, and there is ADHD, Inattentive Type, without any evident hyperactivity or impulsivity. We now know as many as 40 percent of all people with ADHD are not hyperactive. In the past, children as well as adults with this condition were frequently criticized for their inattentiveness and failures, but they were rarely diagnosed.

A good discussion about what causes ADHD can be found on the


page of the ADDA web site.

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