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Maybe you’re a parent of a child with behavioral issues, or an adult struggling to concentrate at home or work. Perhaps, someone has mentioned Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. You’ve probably read about it, and the symptoms sound like the issues you or your child are experiencing, but knowing where to get a diagnosis isn’t easy.
You’ll need a medical or mental health practitioner experienced in diagnosing ADHD, as it can be tricky. Your family physician may know of the condition but may not have the necessary skills to properly diagnose. You’ll probably be better off visiting a psychologist, psychiatrist, or pediatrician.
Before you start looking for a diagnosis, take a moment to look through the symptoms below to check that they’re consistent with yours. Then continue reading, and you’ll find information about where you can go to get a diagnosis.
What Is ADHD?
The problem with ADHD is that it’s often treated as a bit of a casual joke. For example, as an excuse for being late to a meeting, when the real reason was plain tardiness. Or as an excuse for a child’s misbehavior, when the child was, well, naughty.
It’s a term that tends to get overused by people who have no real knowledge of what it is.
That’s why it’s worth getting straight in your mind what ADHD means.
So, let’s start with the basics.
ADHD is short for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. It’s a mental disorder affecting the development of the nervous system.
It starts in childhood and leads to emotional and behavioral issues. Those issues can fade as you grow older. But for some sufferers, they have a lifelong impact.
You usually see ADHD categorized into three types:
- Combined inattentiveness and hyperactivity/impulsiveness. This is the most prevalent form.
When we look at symptoms, we can break them down between the first two types, with the third type being a mixture of both. So, let’s look at what the telltale signs are.
What Are the Symptoms of ADHD?
You’ll see below that ADHD has a variety of symptoms. You might find it confusing, but you can have some of the listed symptoms but still not be suffering from ADHD. More on that later.
Characteristic Symptoms of ADHD
We can list the typical behavioral signs of ADHD as follows:
Symptoms of ADHD
So, you can see the first form of ADHD causes issues with attention. The second form gives rise to problems with regulating emotions and self-control.
If you have the combined form, then you’ll have symptoms from both of the above categories. And if you want a more thorough “test,” the video below is worth watching:
Persistence and Pervasiveness Are Key
Bear in mind that it’s the persistent and pervasive nature of the symptoms that may suggest ADHD.
Your symptoms must occur frequently. Experiencing symptoms now and again may mean something else is the cause.
The symptoms must also have an impact on your ability to function in various aspects of your daily life.
For example, a child may display the symptoms at home but not at school. If symptoms only arise in one setting, it might suggest the issue is something other than ADHD.
As mentioned above, you may experience symptoms from either or both categories. But, you don’t need to exhibit all symptoms.
You may feel that the more symptoms you have, the more likely they’ll be down to ADHD. But whether ADHD is the cause of the symptoms will depend on ruling out other possible causes.
Why Do I Need a Diagnosis?
It’s tempting to think that you’ve read enough about the condition to know that you have the symptoms, and it must be ADHD.
So, getting a professional diagnosis might seem like a waste of time and money. But, here’s why you shouldn’t skip that step.
The Listed Symptoms Can Be Unrelated to ADHD
The problem is that some of the symptoms are things that most of us experience from time to time. They can occur because we’re stressed or preoccupied with work or family pressures.
For example, when you’re busy trying to fit everything into your schedule, it’s easy to mislay your phone or car keys. You may even have forgotten about an important meeting.
You may find it hard to sit still and relax, or even to pay attention to someone when they’re talking to you. If you’ve got other things on your mind, it’s easy to find your attention drifting from whatever you’re doing.
You might have done one or all these things yourself, even on more than one occasion.
These are things you can expect to experience at one time or another. But that doesn’t mean that you have ADHD.
Normal Behavior and Symptoms of ADHD Can Look the Same in Children
It’s often even more of a challenge in children to identify that there may be a problem.
Most children display elements of hyperactivity at some point. Children tend to be energetic and run around a lot, and many can’t seem to sit still for long periods.
So, in children, some of the symptoms are behaviors you would expect to see in a particular age group.
On the other hand, it’s easy to mistake the symptoms in a child as plain naughtiness and to think they’ll grow out of it. If the real cause is ADHD, their symptoms can go untreated, leading to problems later on.
Also, it’s easy to overlook the inattentive form of the disorder. The symptoms of that type of ADHD tend to be less disruptive. But, inattentiveness can cause under-performance at school. Without a diagnosis of ADHD, it may get put down to a lack of academic ability.
In reality, it can be hard to tell when a child’s behavior ceases to be within acceptable norms.
Other Conditions Have Similar Symptoms
For example, you may have depression, stress, difficulty sleeping, or anxiety. These conditions can make you feel agitated or unable to concentrate. Learning disabilities can also give rise to ADHD-like symptoms.
Although other conditions may have the same symptoms, the treatment may differ.
So, you shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that having any or all the ADHD symptoms listed means ADHD is the cause. You need a licensed medical or mental health professional to confirm it for you.
Without a Proper Diagnosis You May Miss Out on Treatment
You shouldn’t underestimate the potential relief that a diagnosis can bring. It can be a light-bulb moment when you can understand and put into context the difficulties you’ve faced. Realizing that you weren’t stupid or lazy can help boost your flagging self-esteem.
Additionally, a proper diagnosis is the first step towards getting treatment.
If you or your child has ADHD, it can have a continuing adverse impact on all aspects of life if left untreated.
Lack of proper treatment can impact your child’s social and academic development. The effects of leaving the condition untreated can last well into adult life.
You or your child run an increased risk of developing other mental health problems. That’s because the symptoms of ADHD can affect relationships, work, and family life. The issues can lead to depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
I Want to Get a Diagnosis but Where Do I Start?
Well, there are some preliminary steps you can take yourself first.
You should view these steps as preparatory to getting professional medical advice. Don’t consider them as a replacement for seeking professional help.
Consider the List of Symptoms Against the Behaviors You Are Experiencing
Check Yourself Against the List of Symptoms
So, your starting point is looking at the list of symptoms in detail. Don’t just give them a cursory look. You need to consider them in depth. Then, try to be honest and ask yourself whether you or the person you’re concerned about displays them.
Remember, you’re not looking for behaviors that occur from time to time. There needs to be an element of persistence that has a significant adverse impact on your daily life.
Sometimes, for adults, recognizing the symptoms in themselves is tricky. If you’ve coped with particular issues all your life, it can be easy to dismiss them as insignificant. Or you underestimate their impact because you’ve become accustomed to them.
You might look at the list of symptoms and recognize some of the behaviors listed in yourself. But, you may think to yourself that it’s not much of a problem for you.
Fill in a Questionnaire or Online Assessment
If you think you may be doing this, you might find having to commit something to paper helps. For example, if you have to answer questions in a form. Doing something like that can force you to look at your behavior with more objectivity.
The World Health Organisation has a questionnaire, the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale. It’s a checklist used by medical professionals.
The responses provide a guide on whether the symptoms suggest ADHD might be present. It may be worth your while downloading and filling in that form at home as a first step. It’s the sort of questionnaire your medical advisor may ask you to fill in.
The instructions with the questionnaire make it easy to interpret the results yourself.
You could also try an online assessment tool. Again, having to answer questions rather than just glancing at a list of symptoms may help you focus. These tools give an instant assessment in a graphical format, so it’s easy to see where you stand.
But remember, self-assessment can only be a provisional first step. The diagnosis of ADHD is a process, not a single event.
That’s why the following step is so important. Even if the self-assessment came up negative, you need to delve a little deeper. Something must have triggered your initial concern, so you need to keep going to get to the bottom of it.
Consult Others Such As Family, Friends, Colleagues, Teachers
If you’re an adult concerned about your behavior, discuss your concerns with people you know. Speak to family, friends, and even work colleagues.
You might find it useful to show them your completed questionnaire. Ask for comments on your answers. They may be able to give you another perspective on your behaviors. Sometimes it helps to know how others perceive the way you act.
Your family will be able to provide information from your childhood. They may remember things that you might not recall yourself. They may also be able to dig out old school reports, which perhaps refer to behavioral issues.
Remember, ADHD is a developmental condition, so it starts in childhood. If your symptoms date back to your childhood, that’s relevant to a diagnosis. It’s information that your medical advisor will need to know.
In the case of work colleagues, it can be awkward to discuss this type of issue. But, you may find that colleagues open up to you if you approach them. Then, they’re more likely to talk about any problems with your behavior that they may have felt unable to do so otherwise.
If you’re concerned about your child, ask their teachers about your child’s behavior.
The teachers will see how your child interacts with other adults and children when you’re not around.
Also, school is more of a regulated environment. Children need to behave with some degree of conformity, unlike at home. So, a school setting can make it easier to notice excessive behaviors.
Teachers also have more experience of normal behavior for particular age groups. They’ll have more of a context against which to set their judgments. Sometimes, they’re the first to spot potential problem behaviors.
Daycare staff and childminders can also provide valuable input. Again, their experience of other children gives them something against which to compare.
A 2015 study confirmed the value of teachers and daycare staff in identifying signs of ADHD. It found that in about a third of ADHD cases in 6-15-year-olds, they were first to express concern.
So, use them as a resource if you’re concerned about your child’s behavior.
The Next Step
All the information you gather from speaking with others will help in your diagnosis.
Your chosen practitioner may want to speak to those people directly. Sometimes, doing so can provide a more comprehensive picture. But, the information you provide can speed up the process.
Who Can Provide a Diagnosis of ADHD?
Diagnosing ADHD isn’t a specialism within any one branch of the medical profession. The ability to diagnose comes down to the skill and experience of the practitioner.
As mentioned, the diagnosis of ADHD is a process, not a single event. No one can run a test to tell you if you have it.
The 2015 study referred to above confirmed that different medical professionals diagnose ADHD. A diagnosis may be from a primary care physician, such as a family physician or pediatrician. Or, it may be from a mental health specialist like a psychiatrist or psychologist.
The important thing is that the medical professional has experience in diagnosing ADHD. Experience is crucial. Someone with experience will be able to tell if the symptoms are ADHD or arise from other conditions.
So, let’s look at the type of professionals you might consult to get a diagnosis.
Your Family Physician
Your family physician may well be your first port of call for any concerns about your health or that of your child. It’s a natural first step to discuss an issue like this with a medical professional already familiar to you.
It’s also convenient as you should be able to arrange an appointment with your family doctor quickly.
But, there is a problem with experience. Your family physician may be aware of ADHD in general terms. But, they probably won’t have the specialist knowledge and expertise needed to diagnose it.
Also, appointments with family doctors aren’t long enough to make a proper diagnosis. Diagnosing ADHD requires a thorough investigation, so it’s not a quick process.
In most cases, you should consider your family doctor as a source of preliminary advice only. They may be able perhaps to confirm, or not, your view of whether you or your child may have the condition.
They may also know of, and refer you to specialists who can take the diagnostic process further.
If you’re dealing with a child you think may have ADHD, your pediatrician may be able to make the diagnosis.
Pediatricians are primary care physicians. But, they have specialist training in children’s health. That training can give them particular insight into conditions such as ADHD.
Remember, ADHD is a developmental condition. Pediatricians are experts in both the physical and mental development of children.
You’ve seen reference to the 2015 study earlier. It looked at the involvement of medical professionals in diagnosing ADHD. It found that pediatricians were the first to diagnose ADHD in almost 40% of cases.
Now, that’s not to say that your pediatrician is a specialist in mental health conditions. But they do have sound knowledge of the developmental stages of childhood. That knowledge is a significant benefit in diagnosing conditions like ADHD.
Your pediatrician’s involvement with your child may date back to birth. So, they may already have a good basic knowledge of your child’s development. That knowledge can help get an early diagnosis.
It’s also beneficial to you as a parent, to be able to deal with a medical professional you already know and trust.
Now, pediatricians can prescribe medication to treat ADHD. But, drugs may not always be the best or only route. Often, medication combined with other therapies provides the best outcome for patients.
So, your pediatrician may involve other mental health practitioners in the treatment stage.
Some pediatricians may not feel qualified enough to give a diagnosis of ADHD. As mentioned above, pediatricians aren’t mental health specialists.
If that happens, ask them to recommend a specialist who does have the experience to diagnose ADHD.
If you can’t get a diagnosis from a pediatrician or you’re an adult, consider consulting a psychiatrist.
A psychiatrist is a medical professional. They train to diagnose and deal with mental and emotional health conditions. Such conditions include ADHD.
A psychiatrist’s training helps them distinguish between different mental health conditions.
As you’ve read, this can be crucial with ADHD. That’s because some of its symptoms are the same as those of other mental health disorders.
Their training also means they can carry out physical examinations. A physical exam can help eliminate other conditions that cause ADHD-like symptoms. Elimination is a crucial part of the diagnostic process.
In diagnosing, psychiatrists use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The American Psychiatric Association issues this manual. It categorizes mental health illnesses, including ADHD, and identifies their symptoms and treatments.
Again, their medical training enables them to prescribe medication for ADHD. They can also track any side effects and make adjustments to medication as required.
Some psychiatrists also provide counseling therapies. But, their focus is usually on drug treatments. So, they often work in conjunction with psychologists to combine medication with counseling.
Psychiatrists are expensive. So, in practice, you might only use them for their expertise to get a diagnosis. After that, your family doctor can deal with managing medication and treatment. That’s less expensive than having a psychiatrist do this.
A Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
They work in various settings like community health centers and mental health clinics. Sometimes they work alongside family physicians.
With their specialist training, they can diagnose, treat, and monitor mental health conditions.
In many respects, they carry out the same functions as a psychiatrist. The main difference being the PMH Nurse practitioner’s degree is in nursing.
A PMH nurse practitioner will also have undergone training to provide psychological treatments. So, they can give counseling for disorders like ADHD. Many are also able to prescribe medications.
They have a nursing background. For some people, this makes them more approachable than a psychiatrist. So, don’t worry if you feel somewhat intimidated by the thought of going to a psychiatrist. A specially trained psychiatric nurse practitioner can be an excellent option.
A Clinical Psychologist
If you’re not keen on medication as a potential treatment, a psychologist might be the right choice for you.
Psychologist’s training teaches them about the way our minds work. So, they understand the underlying motivations that influence our behavior. Their training enables them to analyze and assess why we behave the way we do.
Psychologists use the same DSM-5 that psychiatrists use to help with diagnosis. Based on this and their clinical findings, they can diagnose mental health issues. They can also devise treatment plans to overcome or control symptoms.
If you have ADHD, treatment from a psychologist involves psychological methods. Psychological methods refer to talking therapies, that is, counseling.
These therapies aim to help you understand and make sense of what you feel or think. The ultimate goal is to enable you to overcome or manage your thoughts and impulses. Through this understanding, you can modify the way you respond to them. That is, you can change your behavior.
Also, if you’ve lived with undiagnosed ADHD for many years, it can take an emotional toll.
Your symptoms can cause problems and conflict in relationships and at work. These issues can affect your wellbeing.
A psychologist can help you come to terms with the emotional impact and help you move on.
Psychologists aren’t medical doctors. Except in a handful of states, they can’t prescribe drug treatments. So, your psychologist will work with medical doctors who can write prescriptions.
Schools often have psychologists as part of a multidisciplinary educational team. The team will be responsible for assessing children’s special education needs.
So, if it’s your child you’re concerned about, consider speaking to the school. It may be that the school psychologist can help, at least after you get a diagnosis.
As you’ve seen, you have several options available when deciding where to get a diagnosis of ADHD.
Whichever option you select, make sure you’re comfortable dealing with the person. You should always feel free to ask searching questions. You should also have confidence that they have expertise in dealing with ADHD.
Remember that improving and learning to cope with ADHD is a journey. It can often be a long one, especially if it’s a child with the condition. You may be dealing with the professional you select for a significant period.
So, take your time to choose the best option for you or your child.