Many people are curious about how ADHD is diagnosed. How do doctors know it’s really ADHD and not just normal behavior?
ADHD diagnosis is a complicated procedure.
First, the physician, psychologist or social worker will look for other causes of the child’s behavior, besides ADHD.
These causes can include:
- A sudden change in the child’s life, such as a death in the family, parents’ divorce, or parent’s job loss
- Undetected seizures
- A middle ear infection that causes intermittent hearing problems
- Learning disability causing underachievement
- Anxiety or depression
The practitioner will take into account school and medical records that show ADHD-like behavior and other information, and will try to determine whether the home and/or school environments are chaotic and causing stress.
The specialist will ask the parents and teachers to fill out a special ADHD rating scale which helps with diagnosis, and may interview teachers and others close to the child.
In most cases, the possibly ADHD child will be screened for general mental health and social adjustment, and will probably have tests of intelligence and learning achievement to screen for learning disabilities.
What the specialist is doing is piecing together a jigsaw puzzle that is the child’s behavior. Which ADHD-like behaviors listed in the most recent DSM-IV does the child show? How often? In what situations? How long has the ADHD-possible child been exhibiting these behaviors? How old was the child when the ADHD-like behaviors started? Are the behavior problems relatively chronic or periodic in nature? Are the behaviors seriously interfering with the child’s life? Does the child have any other related problems?
The answers to all of these questions will figure into a diagnosis of ADHD (or not).
This is just a brief sketch of what goes into an ADHD diagnosis. Your child’s pediatrician can give you more information on ADHD diagnostic criteria.
Information from this article comes from the National Institute of Mental Health Report “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.”
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