Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a relatively common mental health disorder in children and teens. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9.8% of children aged 3 to 17 have ADHD. If you have a child who shows symptoms such as difficulty focusing or staying seated, you may worry that they have ADHD. Plenty of Internet resources can provide you with information about ADHD and give you a better idea of whether your child may meet diagnostic criteria. There is even online ADHD testing available, but the truth is that nothing can take the place of a proper, formal diagnosis.
Professionally Diagnosing ADHD
If your child shows symptoms of ADHD, or someone in their life, such as a teacher, has commented that they have some signs of the mental health disorder, it can be helpful to have your child assessed by a professional. While a teacher or an Internet quiz cannot render an ADHD diagnosis, there are plenty of professionals who can.
Your child’s pediatrician is a good starting point if you have concerns about ADHD. A doctor can conduct an assessment, determine if your child meets diagnostic criteria, and prescribe medication if warranted. A doctor can also refer you to other services, such as counseling and support groups, to help you manage the ADHD diagnosis. While family doctors are not mental health specialists, many of them have training in the diagnosis and management of ADHD.
Specially trained mental health professionals capable of diagnosing ADHD include:
- Clinical psychologists: These doctoral-level professionals cannot prescribe medication, but they can assess and treat mental health conditions, including ADHD.
- Psychiatrists: As medically-trained physicians, psychiatrists specialize in diagnosing and treating mental health disorders, and they can also prescribe medications.
- Social workers: Clinically trained, master’s-level social workers can diagnose and treat mental health conditions like ADHD.
- Counselors and therapists: There are various specific professions that fall under this category, including licensed professional counselors and marriage and family therapists. While the specific job title and licensure requirements can vary among different states, what these positions have in common is that they require a master’s degree and allow a person to assess and treat mental health conditions.
Visiting one of the professionals above can help you to determine if your child meets diagnostic criteria for ADHD.
How ADHD is Diagnosed
The professional making a diagnosis will gather a complete history from you as part of the ADHD testing. They will collect information about your child’s medical and behavioral history, including questions about family history, academic history, and the history of ADHD symptoms. The professional will ask about specific symptoms that have been concerning you and how they have been affecting your child’s life. They will also likely administer various rating scales to assess for the presence and severity of ADHD symptoms; in most cases, both you and your child’s teacher will be asked to complete the scales.
Ultimately, an ADHD diagnosis is made if a child meets criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). To be diagnosed, a child must show at least six symptoms related to one of the categories of ADHD. A child who shows at least six symptoms of inattention is diagnosed with the inattentive type of ADHD; a child who shows at least six symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity is diagnosed with this type, and a child who shows at least six symptoms of both is diagnosed with the combined type of ADHD.
Symptoms of inattention include:
- Making careless mistakes at work or school
- Having difficulty maintaining attention on tasks like reading or listening to lectures
- Acting as if they are not listening when spoken to
- Failing to see tasks like school work or chores through to completion
- Difficulty with organization
- Demonstrating avoidance of or dislike for tasks that require attention or mental effort
- Frequently losing things
- Being easily distracted
- Having a tendency to be forgetful
Symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity include:
- Frequent fidgeting
- Failing to stay seated when expected
- Running or climbing when it’s not appropriate to do so
- Being unable to play quietly
- Appearing to be always “on the go”
- Excessively talking
- Blurting out answers or statements
- Interrupting others, such as by entering into conversations or games uninvited
- Struggling to wait in lines or to wait one’s turn
If you’re seeking ADHD diagnosis and treatment in the New Jersey area, Bridge to Balance can help. We have office locations in Voorhees, Hamilton, and Piscataway, and we have clinicians on staff who are skilled in ADHD assessment and intervention. Visit our webpage today to learn more or to make an appointment.