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:
Height and weight
Ongoing developmental or medical problems
3. Your Child’s Strengths and Challenges
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 teacher(s) may be asked to fill out a rating scale, too.
6. Making Sure Official Criteria for Diagnosis Are Met
To get an ADHD diagnosis, kids need to meet certain criteria. There are two official lists of symptoms—one for inattention and one for hyperactivity-impulsivity. Kids 16 and under must have six out of nine symptoms on each, or both, lists. (Not all kids with ADHD have hyperactivity-impulsivity.) Anyone 17 or over must have five on either list.
You can see the lists in this PDF.
7. Considering Challenges Other Than ADHD
8. A Follow-up Meeting
If you’re still on the fence about getting your child evaluated, try to talk it through with someone you trust. Maybe it’s a friend or relative who’s 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.