Understanding ADHD Assessment: Symptoms, Tests, and Treatment

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. If you suspect that you or your child has ADHD, seeking an accurate diagnosis is an important step in improving quality of life and functioning. This article will provide you with an in-depth understanding of ADHD assessment, including the symptoms, tests, and treatment options available.

Symptoms of ADHD

ADHD is characterized by persistent inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Symptoms can vary from person to person, but the most common ones include:

  • Difficulty paying attention and staying focused
  • Impulsivity and acting without thinking
  • Hyperactivity, such as fidgeting or restlessness
  • Forgetfulness and disorganization
  • Difficulty completing tasks
  • Excessive talking and interrupting others

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder which means the brain of someone with ADHD develops differently. Therefore, symptoms must be present before age 12 and the symptoms must be present in two or more settings (e.g., at home, school, community, work). Furthermore, the symptoms must interfere with, or reduce the quality of, social, academic, or occupational functioning.

It is important to note that although symptoms need to be present prior to age 12, you can still be diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. The individual or ideally someone that knew them prior to the age of 12, needs to be able to recall experiencing those things during that time.

Subtypes of ADHD

There are three main subtypes of ADHD.

  • Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: symptoms of inattention are present but symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity are not.
  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity are present but symptoms of inattention are not.
  • Combined Presentation: both symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity are present.

It’s important to note that a diagnosis of ADHD should only be made by a qualified healthcare professional after a thorough evaluation. This is because a number of the symptoms of ADHD overlap with other diagnoses. For example, individuals with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, certain personality disorders and other mental health disorders can also experience symptoms of inattentiveness, restlessness, forgetfulness, difficulty completing tasks, excessive talkativeness, and impulsivity. Medical conditions like thyroid disorders, seizure disorders, PANS/PANDAS, PKU, and others can also cause ADHD-like symptoms.

Prevalence of ADHD

ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that affects people of all ages. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 6.1 million children and adolescents in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD. Although ADHD affects both boys and girls, boys are more likely to be diagnosed than girls. The CDC reports that boys are diagnosed with ADHD more than twice as often as girls.

Individuals with ADHD are at a higher risk of developing other mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that up to 50% of individuals with ADHD may also have a co-occurring disorder.

ADHD can have a significant impact on daily life, including academic and occupational functioning, social relationships, and overall quality of life. The NIMH reports that individuals with ADHD may have difficulty with academic performance, maintaining employment, and forming and maintaining relationships.

These statistics highlight the prevalence and impact of ADHD, as well as the need for early identification and effective treatment.

ADHD Tests

There is no single test to diagnose ADHD. A comprehensive assessment typically involves a combination of different tests and evaluations. These include:

  • Clinical Interviews: A clinician will conduct a thorough interview to assess the symptoms and gather relevant information about the individual’s medical and personal history.
  • Rating Scales: These are questionnaires completed by parents, teachers, or the individual themselves to assess the severity and frequency of ADHD symptoms.
  • Behavioral Observations: These involve observing the individual’s behavior in different settings, such as school or home, to evaluate the presence of ADHD symptoms.
  • Neuropsychological Testing: These tests assess cognitive function, including attention, memory, and executive function.

With increasing awareness of ADHD, children have a higher likelihood of being assessed and diagnosed. However, misinformation and inadequate testing sometimes leads to inaccurate diagnosis.

Imagine going to your doctor with a broken leg and being diagnosed with a skin infection. Yes, there are some overlapping symptoms but the two are very different. Treatment of the skin infection may help a little, but you will continue to have difficulty walking until the real problem is treated.

Accurate diagnosis is crucial for proper intervention and care.

ADHD Treatment

There is no cure for ADHD, but treatment can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. There are several evidence-based treatments available for ADHD, meaning they have been rigorously studied and shown to be effective in reducing symptoms and improving overall functioning.

  • Behavioral Therapy: Behavioral therapy, also known as behavior modification, is a type of therapy that focuses on changing behaviors through reinforcement and positive feedback. It is often used as a first-line treatment for children with ADHD. Behavioral therapy can help children learn new skills, improve self-control and problem-solving skills, and reduce negative behaviors. It can be delivered in various formats, including individual therapy, family therapy, or group therapy.
  • Parent Training: Parent training is a type of behavioral therapy that focuses on teaching parents specific strategies and skills to manage their child’s behavior. It can help parents learn how to set clear expectations, establish consistent routines, and reinforce positive behaviors. Parent training can be delivered in individual or group formats, and may involve coaching or role-playing exercises.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of therapy that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. It can be helpful for adults with ADHD who struggle with self-esteem, motivation, and organization. CBT can help individuals learn new coping strategies, improve self-awareness, and reduce negative thoughts and behaviors.
  • Medication: Stimulants are the most common medication used to treat ADHD. They work by increasing dopamine levels in the brain, which improves focus and attention.
  • Combination Therapy: Combining medication and behavioral therapy may be more effective than either treatment alone, especially in children with ADHD. Combination therapy can help improve symptom reduction and overall functioning.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Many of my clients want to learn more about natural ways to improve ADHD symptoms. Regular exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep can help manage symptoms of ADHD. Meditation and mindfulness are also well-studied ways of improving attention and overall wellbeing.
  • Executive Function Coaching: Individuals with ADHD tend to have weaknesses in executive functioning. Executive functioning is the group of cognitive skills that helps people engage in goal-directed behavior. While there is a lot parents can do to help, many individuals with ADHD need a more structured approach to learning these skills and learning how to compensate for weaknesses. Working with an executive functioning coach is a great option for individuals with ADHD at any age.

Conclusion

ADHD assessment is essential to ensure an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment. If you suspect you or your child has ADHD, seek the help of a qualified professional. With the right diagnosis and treatment, individuals with ADHD can manage their symptoms and lead successful, fulfilling lives.