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ADHD Tests and Diagnosis

Is it ADHD or something else? Learn how attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is diagnosed in kids and adults.

Little girl get's shown picture by child psychologist

Diagnosing ADHD: What you need to know

Are you easily sidetracked, hopelessly disorganized, 或者经常健忘,并怀疑注意力缺陷多动障碍(ADHD)是罪魁祸首? Do you look at your rambunctious, fidgety child and think it might be ADHD? 在你急于下结论之前,请记住,诊断ADHD并不是那么简单. On their own, none of the symptoms of attention deficit disorder are abnormal. Most people feel scattered, unfocused, or restless at times. Even chronic hyperactivity or distractibility doesn’t necessarily equal ADHD.

目前还没有单一的医学、物理或其他测试来诊断注意力缺陷多动症(以前被称为ADD). To determine if you or your child has ADHD, a doctor or other health professional will need to be involved. You can expect them to use a number of different tools: a checklist of symptoms, answers to questions about past and present problems, or a medical exam to rule out other causes for symptoms.

Keep in mind that the symptoms of ADHD, such as concentration problems and hyperactivity, can be confused with other disorders and medical problems, including learning disabilities and emotional issues, which require totally different treatments. Just because it looks like ADHD doesn’t mean it is, so getting a thorough assessment and diagnosis is important.

Making the ADHD diagnosis

ADHD looks different in every person, so there is a wide array of criteria to help health professionals reach a diagnosis. 对进行评估的专家开诚布公是很重要的,这样他们才能得出最准确的结论.

To receive an ADHD diagnosis, you or your child must display a combination of strong ADHD hallmark symptoms, namely hyperactivity, impulsivity, or inattention. 评估这一问题的心理健康专业人员还会考虑以下因素:

How severe are the symptoms? 要被诊断为ADHD,其症状必须对你或你孩子的生活产生负面影响. In general, people who truly have ADHD have major problems in one or more areas of their life, such as their career, finances, or family responsibilities.

When did the symptoms start? Since ADHD starts in childhood, the doctor or therapist will look at how early the symptoms appeared. If you are an adult, can you trace the symptoms back to your childhood?

How long have the symptoms been bothering you or your child? Symptoms must have been going on for at least 6 months before ADHD can be diagnosed.

When and where do the symptoms appear? The symptoms of ADHD must be present in multiple settings, such as at home and school. If the symptoms only appear in one environment, it is unlikely that ADHD is to blame.

Common symptoms of ADHD
Symptoms of inattention
  • Often fails to give close attention to detail or makes mistakes
  • 通常在完成任务或参加活动时难以保持注意力
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • 经常不遵守指示,不能完成学校作业或工作职责
  • Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  • 经常回避、不喜欢或不愿意从事需要持续脑力劳动的任务
  • Loses materials necessary for tasks or activities
  • Is easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities
Symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity
  • Often fidgets with or taps hands and feet, or squirms in seat
  • Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected
  • Often unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly
  • Often runs and climbs in situations where it is inappropriate (in adolescents or adults, may be limited to feeling restless)
  • Is often “on the go,” acting as if “driven by a motor”
  • Often blurts out answers before a question has been completed
  • Often has difficulty waiting their turn
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others
  • Often talks excessively

Source: DSM-5 Criteria for ADHD, CDC 

Finding a specialist who can diagnose ADHD

Qualified professionals trained in diagnosing ADHD can include clinical psychologists, physicians, or clinical social workers. Choosing a specialist can seem confusing at first. The following steps can help you find the right person to evaluate you or your child.

Get recommendations. Doctors, therapists, and friends you trust may refer you to a particular specialist. Ask them questions about their choice and try out their recommendation.

Do your homework. 找出你所关注的专家的专业证书和学位. If possible, talk to former patients and clients, and find out what their experience was.

Feel at ease. 对专家感到满意是选择合适的人来评估你的一个重要部分. Try to be yourself, ask questions, and be honest with the professional. 在找到最适合你的人之前,你可能需要与一些专家交谈.

Check price and insurance. 了解专家将收取多少费用,以及你的健康保险是否将支付部分或全部多动症评估. 一些保险保单包括一种专家对ADHD的评估,但不包括另一种专家的评估.

Diagnosing ADHD in adults

Many people only learn that they have ADHD when they become adults. Some find out after their children receive the diagnosis. As they become educated about the condition, they also realize that they have it. For others, the symptoms finally outpace their coping skills, causing significant enough problems in their daily life that they seek help. If you recognize the signs and symptoms of ADHD in yourself, schedule a visit with a mental health professional for an assessment. Once you make that initial appointment, feeling somewhat nervous about it is normal.

If you know what to expect, the process for evaluating ADHD isn’t confusing or scary. 许多专业人士会在评估之前先让你填写并返还问卷. 你可能会被要求说出一个与你关系密切的人,他也会参与一些评估. To determine if you have ADHD, 你可以期待进行评估的专家做以下任何一项或全部:

  • Ask you about your symptoms, 包括他们打扰你多久了以及他们过去造成的任何问题.
  • Administer ADHD tests, such as symptom checklists and attention-span tests.
  • Talk to family members or someone close to you about your symptoms.
  • Give you a medical exam to rule out other physical causes for the symptoms.

Should I be tested for adult ADHD?

If you have significant problems with any of the following categories, you may want to get evaluated for ADHD:

  • Job or career: losing or quitting jobs frequently
  • Work or school: not performing up to your capacity or ability
  • Day-to-day tasks: inability to do household chores, pay bills on time, organize things
  • Relationships: 忘记重要的事情,难以完成任务,为小问题而烦恼
  • Emotions: 因为没有完成目标或履行责任而经历持续的压力和担忧

Diagnosing ADHD in children

When seeking a diagnosis for your child, having a “team mentality” may help. 你不是一个人,在别人的帮助下,你可以了解孩子挣扎的真相. Together with specialists trained in diagnosing ADHD, you can help bring about a swift and accurate assessment that leads to treatment.

Your role as a parent

When seeking a diagnosis for your child, you are your child’s best advocate and most important source of support. As a parent in this process, your roles are both emotional and practical. You can:

  • Provide emotional support for your child during the diagnostic process
  • 确保你的孩子看正确的专家,如果有必要的话,获得第二个意见
  • Provide unique and helpful information for doctors/specialists, 包括公开和诚实地回答有关孩子的历史和目前的适应情况的问题
  • Monitor the speed and accuracy of evaluation

The doctor’s or specialist’s role

Usually, more than one professional assesses a child for ADHD symptoms. Physicians, clinical and school psychologists, clinical social workers, speech-language pathologists, learning specialists, and educators may each play an important role in the ADHD evaluation.

As with adults, there are no laboratory or imaging tests available to make a diagnosis; instead, 临床医生根据观察到的症状并排除其他疾病,得出结论. 指导孩子评估的专家会问你一系列问题,你应该诚实和公开地回答. They may also:

  • Obtain a thorough medical and family history
  • Order or conduct a general physical and/or neurological exam
  • Lead a comprehensive interview with you, your child, and your child’s teacher(s)
  • Use standardized screening tools for ADHD
  • Observe your child at play or school
  • Use psychological tests to measure IQ and assess social and emotional adjustment

Getting your child evaluated for ADHD

Doctors, specialists, ADHD tests—it may all feel a little overwhelming to pursue a diagnosis for your child. You can take a lot of the chaos out of the process with the following practical steps.

Make an appointment with a specialist. As the parent, you can initiate testing for ADHD on behalf of your child. The earlier you schedule this appointment, the sooner you can get help for their ADHD.

Speak to your child’s school. 打电话给孩子的校长,直接、公开地告诉他你在寻求诊断. Public schools in the U.S., for example, are required by law to assist you, and in most cases, the staff wants to help improve your child’s life at school.

Give professionals the full picture. 当你被问及有关孩子行为的尖锐问题时,一定要诚实地回答. Your perspective is very important to the evaluation process.

Keep things moving. 你是你孩子的拥护者,并且有能力防止在获得诊断方面的延误. 经常与医生或专家进行适当的联系,看看你的进展如何.

If necessary, get a second opinion. If there is any doubt that your child has received a thorough or appropriate evaluation, you can seek another specialist’s help.

Understanding an ADHD diagnosis

It’s normal to feel upset or intimidated by a diagnosis of ADHD. 但请记住,得到诊断可能是让生活变得更好的第一步. Once you know what you’re dealing with, 你可以开始接受治疗——这意味着控制症状,在生活的每个领域都更加自信.

多动症的诊断感觉像是一个标签,但把它看作一种解释可能会更有帮助. 这个诊断解释了为什么你在集中注意力等生活技能方面会遇到困难, following directions, listening closely, organization—things that seem to come easily to other people.

In this sense, getting a diagnosis can be a relief. 当你知道阻碍你或你的孩子的不是懒惰或智力不足时,你会更容易休息, but rather a disorder that you can learn how to manage.

Also keep in mind that an ADHD diagnosis is not a sentence for a lifetime of suffering. Some people have only mild symptoms, while others experience more pervasive problems. But regardless of where you or your child land on this spectrum, there are many steps you can take to manage your symptoms.

Co-existing conditions and ADHD

重要的是要明白,ADHD的诊断并不排除其他心理健康状况. 下列障碍不是ADHD诊断的一部分,但有时与ADHD同时发生, or get confused with it:

AnxietyExcessive worry that occurs frequently and is difficult to control. Symptoms include feeling restless or on edge, easily fatigued, panic attacks, irritability, muscle tension, and insomnia.

DepressionSymptoms include feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and self-loathing, 以及睡眠和饮食习惯的改变,以及对过去喜欢的活动失去兴趣.

Learning disabilitiesProblems with reading, writing, or mathematics. When given standardized tests, the student’s ability or intelligence is substantially higher than their achievement.

Substance abuse – The impulsivity and behavioral issues that often go along with ADHD can lead to alcohol and drug problems.

Getting help after an ADHD diagnosis

ADHD的诊断可以是一个很好的警钟——它可以给你额外的推动力,让你去寻求帮助,解决那些阻碍你幸福和成功的症状. If you or your child is diagnosed with ADHD, don’t wait to start treatment. The earlier you begin tackling the symptoms, the better.

Managing ADHD takes work. Finding the right treatments for you or your child is a process—one that takes time, persistence, and trial and error. 但你可以通过牢记以下目标来帮助自己:尽可能多地了解ADHD, getting plenty of support, and adopting healthy lifestyle habits.

ADHD is treatable. Don’t give up hope. With the right treatment and support, 你或你的孩子将能够控制ADHD的症状,并建立你想要的生活.

Treatment is your own responsibility. It’s up to you to take action to manage the symptoms of ADHD. Health professionals can help, but ultimately, the responsibility lies in your own hands.

Learning all you can about ADHD is key. 了解这种疾病将帮助你对你或你孩子的生活和治疗的各个方面做出明智的决定.

Support makes all the difference. While treatment is up to you, support from others can help you stay motivated and get you through tough times.

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Last updated: October 2021

  • References

    American Psychiatric Association. Neurodevelopmental Disorders. (2013). In Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). http://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.dsm01

    Wolraich, M. L., Chan, E., Froehlich, T., Lynch, R. L., Bax, A., Redwine, S. T., Ihyembe, D., & Hagan, J. F. (2019). ADHD Diagnosis and Treatment Guidelines: A Historical Perspective. Pediatrics, 144(4). http://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2019-1682

    Huang, H., Huang, H., Spottswood, M., & Ghaemi, N. (2020). 初级保健中评估和管理成人注意缺陷/多动障碍的方法. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 28(2), 100–106. http://doi.org/10.1097/HRP.0000000000000248

    Kooij, J. J. S., Bijlenga, D., Salerno, L., Jaeschke, R., Bitter, I., Balázs, J., Thome, J., Dom, G., Kasper, S., Filipe, C. N., Stes, S., Mohr, P., Leppämäki, S., Casas, M., Bobes, J., Mccarthy, J. M., Richarte, V., Philipsen, A. K., Pehlivanidis, A., … Asherson, P. (2019). Updated European Consensus Statement on diagnosis and treatment of adult ADHD. European Psychiatry, 56(1), 14–34. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.eurpsy.2018.11.001

Get more help

Symptoms and Diagnosis of ADHD – Overview of how a child is tested for ADHD. (CDC)

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Adults: What You Need to Know – Guidelines for diagnosing ADHD as an adult. (National Institute of Mental Health)

Your Complete ADHD Diagnosis and Testing Guide – Step by step guide to an accurate diagnosis of ADHD. (ADDitude)