Because of the subjective nature of the diagnosis, there has been a long running debate on the accuracy of the diagnosis as well as whether or not ADHD is over-diagnosed. The main symptoms of ADHD include hyperactivity, impulsiveness and inattention. Because these can be seen in all people from time to time, doctors look, not only at the behavior itself, but also, at the length of time it has been present and whether the behavior is excessive or age-inappropriate. Doctors will also ask about current life situations to determine if symptoms may be a reaction to stress and might be temporary or if the symptoms have been present for a long period of time. In addition, the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) states that symptoms must be present in at least two environments and must impair a person’s life in those environments. For example, if someone has problems in school, but not at home or socially, then they would not qualify for a diagnosis of ADHD. In the same respect if a child is overly active at home but behaves well at school, a diagnosis of ADHD would not be appropriate.
The DSM-IV explains the diagnosis of ADHD in detail. It provides symptoms, conditions and other diagnostic criteria. When physicians are knowledgeable about ADHD and understand the criteria explained in the DSM-IV, the accuracy of diagnosis increases.
Physicians should also rule out any other physical or mental illnesses that may be causing symptoms. Some of these include:
- Learning Disabilities
- Vision or Hearing problems
- Anxiety or Depression
- Lead Poisoning
Completing a thorough evaluation, including behavioral questionnaires, can make a diagnosis of ADHD very accurate.
See All of This Series:
ADHD Understanding the Problem, Updated 2008, March 24, TelosNet
“About Us - Feingold Association”, 2008, Feingold Association of the United States
 “Almost Half of Kids With ADHD Are Not Being Treated, Study Finds”, 2006, Aug 6, Washington University School of Medicine
 “Is ADHD Being Overdiagnosed”, 1998, Nov 16, Meg Kissinger, Journal Sentinel
“ADHD Controversy”, Date Unknown, Guy, FDU
“Dramatic Rise in ADHD Sparks Controversy” 2000, Dec 15, Diane Weaver Dunne, Education World
“ADHD”, Reviewed 2005, Jan 30, Ronald Pies, WebMD
“Myths and Misunderstandings”, 2007, Author Unknown, Help for ADHD, National Resource Center for ADHD
 Report 10 of the Council on Science and Public Health: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, 2008, June 2, CSAPH, American Medical Association
 “What Causes ADHD?”, Last reviewed 2008, June 26, National Institute of Mental Health
 "International Consensus Statement on ADHD, 2002, Jan, Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review
“Adult ADHD Underdiagnosed”, 2008, May 6, Charlene Laino, MedicineNet.com
 “ADHD Underdiagnosed in Girls”, 2000, April 1, Ellen B. Littman, Family Practice News
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.