Diagnosing ADHD in Children

By Eileen Bailey

When you think your child may have strep throat or the flu, you take them to the doctor.  After completing some laboratory tests, the doctor will let you know what condition your child has and how to treat it.  However, with ADHD there is no blood test or any other simple test to show whether or not ADHD is present. 

The diagnosis of ADHD is based on questionnaires completed by the patient (if they are old enough), the parents, other caregivers and teachers.  Based on the results of the questionnaire, along with in-depth discussions, your medical provider will determine whether your child has ADHD.  Physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers all routinely diagnose ADHD. 

Once your medical provider has gathered the information, they will compare the symptoms your child is experiencing with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.  The DSM-IV provides a complete list of symptoms and helps medical professionals determine if ADHD is present.

The complete process for diagnosing ADHD should include the following:

Physical Examination

A physical examination is normally completed to rule out any medical causes of the symptoms.  Conditions such as vision problems and hearing problems can be associated with some of the symptoms of ADHD, and these areas should be checked first.  (See 10 Medical Symptoms That Share Symptoms with ADD/ADHD).

Family History

ADHD is considered to be hereditary.  Similar symptoms may be present in other family members or parents may remember that they shared similar characteristics when they were growing up.  Some adults have discovered their diagnosis of ADHD during the diagnostic process for their child. 

Your physician will ask about the pregnancy and birth, the early milestones and whether there seemed to be any developmental delays. (Developmental delay is not a symptom of ADHD and may indicate other problems.) 

In addition to the family history, you should discuss with your doctor and present situations in your household such as divorce, new siblings, or a recent move.  Sometimes the stress of these situations can create behaviors similar to those seen with ADHD. 

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