If you’re an adult who is struggling to stay focused, you may find yourself asking, “Do I have ADHD?” Maybe you’ve noticed that getting organized is a big challenge. Or that you’re having trouble controlling your impulses. For these reasons and more, you may be wondering how ADHD is diagnosed in adults.
It’s common for ADHD symptoms to be overlooked in childhood. (This is often the case for kids who don’t disrupt their class a lot.) It’s also common to spot more symptoms in adulthood as you take on more responsibilities with less structure or supervision than you had as a kid.
Keep reading to find out how adults get tested for ADHD.
What happens in an ADHD evaluation
An ADHD evaluation asks a lot of questions. This happens in a one-on-one interview and/or in a questionnaire or ADHD rating scale that you fill out online or with a pen and paper. The purpose of all of these questions is to figure out a few key things:
- How many ADHD symptoms you have
- How much these symptoms impact your daily life
- How old you were when the symptoms first started
- How many different settings you’re struggling in, like at home and at work
A thorough ADHD evaluation should also look to see if you might be showing signs of other conditions — like anxiety or depression — that can look a lot like ADHD or that often co-occur with ADHD. A good clinician will always be thinking, “What else could be going on besides ADHD?”
Specialists who test adults for ADHD
It’s common for certain kinds of specialists to diagnose ADHD in adults:
- Advanced practice registered nurses or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners
Neuropsychologists and neurologists can also diagnose ADHD. But they aren’t typically the first kind of specialist that adults see for ADHD symptoms. They tend to help people who are struggling with more than just attention challenges, like trouble with reading.
Your primary care doctor may be able to diagnose and treat ADHD. This is especially common in rural areas where there aren’t a lot of specialists.
No matter who you see, it’s important to ask how much training your provider has had in ADHD assessment and treatment.
Learn more about who can diagnose ADHD in adults.
Online testing for ADHD
No one likes waiting weeks or even months to see a doctor in person. Online ADHD testing can offer a quicker alternative. Some sites even offer same-day assessments.
But all that speed may come at a cost. Some online ADHD diagnosis sites don’t have phone or video calls with a provider. The evaluation is totally asynchronous — you and the evaluator wouldn’t be working together in real time. This can make it harder to tell if you have ADHD or something that looks like ADHD.
It’s also important to think ahead about treatment options. Find out if the online diagnosis site can provide treatment in your state. If not, you’ll need to go somewhere else to get treated for ADHD.
Learn more about online ADHD testing.
Covering the cost of an ADHD evaluation
If you have insurance, an evaluation may cost as little as a co-pay. But it can cost hundreds of dollars if you see a specialist who is “out of network” or doesn’t accept insurance.
Don’t have insurance? Learn where to find free or low-cost evaluations.
Developing an ADHD treatment plan
The last part of an ADHD evaluation is very important. This is when you meet to discuss the results. The evaluator should recommend a treatment plan if you qualify for an ADHD diagnosis.
There are many different ways to treat ADHD. Learn more in these Understood Explains episodes:
About the author
About the author
Julie Rawe is the special projects editor at Understood.
Andrew Kahn, PsyD is a licensed psychologist who has served as an evaluator and consultant in public schools for nearly 20 years. Kahn, who describes himself as neurodivergent, is a subject matter expert at Understood.