At a glance
Different types of specialists can diagnose ADHD in kids.
A full ADHD evaluation has many elements.
An evaluation can help you understand your child’s struggles and strengths.
Many parents and caregivers wonder how ADHD is diagnosed — and it’s easy to see why. There is no one test (medical or otherwise) that kids take for ADHD. But there is an evaluation.
An ADHD evaluation is an in-depth process. It looks at many factors, like how much a child’s symptoms are impacting school and daily life. And there are different types of specialists who can evaluate and diagnose kids for ADHD.
An ADHD evaluation usually takes around three hours. That includes the initial visit, a follow-up, and filling out paperwork. (That doesn’t include any travel time to get to the doctor’s office.)
Here are eight things that go into a full ADHD evaluation.
1. An initial meeting with you and your child
This meeting will help to identify your child’s strengths and challenges. The evaluator will look for situations in your child’s life that might be having an impact. These situations could be happening at home, at school, or in the community.
2. Your child’s detailed health information
The evaluator will ask about your child’s health, both past and present. That includes details about any problems during the pregnancy or delivery. The evaluator might also ask about:
- Early infancy
- Developmental milestones
- Sleep patterns
- Height and weight
- Ongoing developmental or medical problems
3. Your child’s strengths and challenges
The evaluator will look at challenges in three key areas: home, school, and social relationships. It’s important to talk about your child’s strengths, interests, and passions, too.
4. ADHD rating scales
These questionnaires are a way to collect information from you about what your child is struggling with. The evaluator will then compare the results to the behavior of other kids that age. (The evaluator might use other assessments, too.)
5. Checking how your child is doing in school
The evaluator will look at report cards and standardized testing. They’ll also want to know if your child gets tutoring or any extra support in the classroom. Your child’s teachers may be asked to fill out a rating scale, too.
6. Making sure official criteria for diagnosis are met
There are two official lists of symptoms — one for inattention and one for hyperactivity-impulsivity. People of different ages need to have a certain number of symptoms from these lists to get an ADHD diagnosis.
7. Considering challenges other than ADHD
These include learning differences or mental health issues like anxiety and depression. These challenges could exist on their own, or they may co-occur with ADHD. The evaluator you use may not be qualified to test for them. If that’s the case, you can ask for a referral to someone who is.
8. A follow-up meeting
This is to go over the results and explore possible treatments, like ADHD medication or therapy. The evaluator might even talk about changing family routines and getting support at school.
If you’re still on the fence about getting your child evaluated, try to talk it through with someone you trust. Maybe a friend or relative has been through something similar. You can also connect with other families in the Understood Community.
And if your child was diagnosed with ADHD, but you’re not sure the evaluation was done properly, find out what to do.
An ADHD evaluation looks at your child’s ADHD symptoms and a number of other factors.
You offer key information about your child’s challenges and health history.
It’s important to share your child’s strengths and passions during the evaluation, too.
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About the author
About the author
The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.
Thomas E. Brown, PhD is a clinical psychologist and clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.