By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 27 May 2008)
Obtaining an Attention Deficity Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis is beneficial because it enables treatment of the symptoms. However, a medical professional must first rule out alternative explanations.
The first step in obtaining a diagnosis of ADHD is talking to your family doctor. He or she can recommend a specialist in the field. The following professionals can diagnose ADHD:
- Clinical social worker
- Family physician
However, a clinical social worker cannot prescribe medication, and a pediatrician, family physician, or neurologist cannot provide training or counselling. Only psychiatrists can diagnose, prescribe medication, and provide training or counselling. Ultimately, it is important to choose one or more professionals with extensive experience and training in treating ADHD.
Ruling Out Alternative Explanations
There are a number of physical conditions and emotional triggers that can cause temporary symptoms similar to those of ADHD. Psychological situations include major life changes such as a move, the loss of a loved one, or the child’s parents getting divorced. Physical conditions that can cause symptoms similar to those of ADHD include undetected epilepsy, middle ear infections, vision or hearing disorders, learning disabilities, and any medical disorder that affects brain function. Such conditions must be ruled out before a diagnosis of ADHD can be made.
The Basis of an ADHD Diagnosis
Symptom rating scales have been developed for ADHD assessment. An ADHD diagnosis is made based on the following criteria:
- Symptoms are consistent and stable over time.
- Symptoms occur in multiple settings, rather than just at home or just at school.
- Symptoms were noticeable before the age of 7.
- Symptoms have occurred continuously for a minimum of 6 months.
The Benefits of a Diagnosis
In addition to enabling treatment, obtaining an ADHD diagnosis will qualify the child for special education services. Parents of the ADHD child can work with the school to assess the child’s weaknesses and strengths in order to develop an Individualized Educational Program (IEP). This program must be reviewed regularly to ensure that the child is receiving the best possible academic support.
Another benefit that frequently occurs with diagnosis is an improvement in self-esteem. While there is the risk that the diagnosis will be stigmatizing or make the child feel as though he or she is abnormal, it can also have the opposite effect. A child who has always felt “bad” or “stupid” may feel better when made to understand that the problematic behaviours and poor academic performance have a physical cause and can be changed through modification strategies and/or medication.
For more information about ADHD, including symptoms, causes, treatments, and related conditions, see the main ADHD page.
- Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance. (n.d.). “What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” Caddra.ca.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services. (2005). “Symptoms of ADHD.” Cdc.gov.
- National Institutes of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2008). “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” Nimh.Nih.gov.
- Silver, L., MD. (2007). “Diagnosing Related Conditions in ADHD Children and Adults.” ADDITUDE: Living Well with ADHD and Learning Disabilities. Additudemag.com.