If you think your child might be having symptoms of ADHD, you can start by taking them to your general practitioner. Although they will evaluate your child, they might refer you to a paediatrician or a psychologist if they think it is necessary
The process of diagnosing ADHD
The process of diagnosing ADHD involves ruling out other possible causes for what someone is going through. Your GP or other healthcare professionals that see your child will check various things, which will probably include a medical check-up, a developmental assessment, evaluation of their experiences in education, and taking a look at their psychosocial functioning.
The sometimes extensive process is also meant to make sure that your child is indeed experiencing symptoms that fall into the ADHD diagnostic criteria. They will also want to check to see if your child is experiencing any other disorders, whether medical, emotional, or behavioural. Getting a good measure of what your child is going through may also help with management later on, if the need arises.
A full evaluation will also require taking of family history, including questions about when the mother of the child was pregnant. Some professionals even conduct interviews with family, caregivers, and educators. There may also be questionnaires and other measurement tests administered to the child.
A definitive diagnosis might not be made in a single visit. It is important to be patient if you are going through this process for your child, as a thorough evaluation will benefit them the most, whether or not a diagnosis of ADHD is made in the end.
ADHD Diagnosis: DSM-5 Criteria
The cornerstone of ADHD diagnosis is the DSM-5 criteria. The 5th edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) is the main reference for the diagnosis of almost all psychological conditions all over the world.
The symptoms considered in diagnosing ADHD are all listed in the DSM-V, but in general they are divided into two categories that correspond to the ADHD subtypes:
- Hyperactivity-Impulsiveness: difficulty staying still or controlling behaviour
- Inattentiveness: trouble staying focused
- Combined: characteristics of both the first two types
For ADHD diagnosis in children under 17, there must be 6 or more symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity or 6 or more symptoms of inattention. For individuals 17 and older, including adults, only 5 or more symptoms are required to make a diagnosis.
There are a couple of other conditions that need to be met, namely that the symptoms must:
- Occur often
- Not only occur in one environment (i.e., only at school, only at home, etc.)
- Already be present before age 12
- Be significant enough to affect normal functioning
- Be too much compared to normal development
Of course, other causes (including non-medical ones) need to be ruled out by your healthcare professional before they can confirm the ADHD diagnosis. Based on what the main symptoms are, a child’s ADHD might be subtyped into hyperactive-impulsive, inattentive, or combined type ADHD.