While there is no single tool for testing for ADHD, psychologists and physicians do use a standard set of guidelines for testing for ADHD. These healthcare professionals will use subjective and objective information from parents, caregivers, schools, and the individuals themselves to make their assessment.
ADHD, the common phrase for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, can be diagnosed after a person has exhibited symptoms for six months or more. Symptoms of ADHD can be seen across many different situations, such as home, school, and within the community.
Testing for ADHD compares a person’s behavior in these situations to a list of diagnostic criteria. Most often, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, serves as the basis for these diagnostic criteria. Individuals with ADHD exhibit either inattention or hyperactivity and impulsivity, or a combination of both.
Symptoms of inattention include making mistakes in schoolwork, difficulty sustaining interest in tasks and activities, not seeming to listen, difficulty organizing tasks, avoiding activities that require sustained mental effort, easily distracted by incoming stimuli, and forgetfulness in daily activities. Testing for ADHD involves looking at these symptoms, how often they occur, and how much they interfere with life.
Symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity include fidgeting, often leaving a seat even when seating is expected, inability to engage in leisure activities quietly, talking excessively, blurting out answers even before the question is complete, having difficulty taking turns, or interrupting or intruding on others.
These symptoms of ADHD that are involved in testing for ADHD are commonly associated with children, but many of the same signs are present in adults. Adults might also show signs such as lateness or forgetfulness, anxiety, lack of organization, low self-esteem, difficulty controlling anger, and impulsiveness. Testing for ADHD is similar for both children and adults, but some of the questionnaires might be more tailored towards a particular age group to receive a more accurate diagnosis.
Healthcare professionals use a checklist of symptoms, questions about current and past problems, and a review of medical history and exam to rule out other possible causes of a person’s behavior. Testing for ADHD involves investigating the symptoms, their severity, and when and where the symptoms are present.
For adults with ADHD, testing for ADHD involves histories of their behavior as a child because many of the symptoms of ADHD would likely be present in their childhood. Testing for ADHD also includes interviews with parents and caregivers (if a child is being diagnosed) or a spouse, partner, or close friend (if an adult is receiving a diagnosis). A thorough physical exam and psychological testing for ADHD also helps make the diagnosis more accurate; these tests rule out causes, such as sudden life changes, seizures, thyroid problems, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, and lead toxicity, of the ADHD-like behavior.
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