Today’s post is part 3 of the Looking at Attention Issues series. I'm using information from HELPGUIDE.org. I wish I'd found this information when I was guiding parents through the attention issue process. I think it would have helped a lot.
Making the ADD/ADHD Diagnosis
ADD/ADHD looks different in every person, so there is a wide array of criteria—or measures for testing—to help health professionals reach a diagnosis. It is important to be open and honest with the specialist conducting your evaluation so that he or she can come to the most accurate conclusion.
Important factors in the diagnosis
To be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, your child must display a combination of strong ADD/ADHD symptoms (hyperactivity, impulsivity, or inattention). The professional assessing the problem will also look at the following factors:
How severe are the symptoms? To be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, the symptoms must have a negative impact on your child’s life.
When did the symptoms start? Since ADD/ADHD starts in childhood, the doctor or therapist will look at how early the symptoms appeared.
How long have the symptoms been bothering you or your child? Symptoms must have been going on for at least 6 months before ADD/ADHD can be diagnosed.
When and where do the symptoms appear? The symptoms must be present in multiple settings, such as at home and school. If the symptoms only appear in one environment, it is unlikely that ADD/ADHD is to blame.
Finding a specialist who can diagnose ADD/ADHD
Qualified professionals trained in diagnosing ADD/ADHD can include clinical psychologists, physicians, or clinical social workers. Choosing a specialist can seem confusing at first. The following are steps you can take toward finding the right person to evaluate you or your child.
Get recommendations. Doctors, therapists, and friends you trust may like a particular specialist. Ask them questions about their choice and try out their recommendation.
Do your homework. Find out the professional certification and academic degrees of the specialists you are looking into. If possible, talk to former patients and clients, and find out what their experience was.
Feel at ease. Feeling comfortable with the specialist is an important part of picking someone right to evaluate you. Try to be yourself, ask questions, and be honest with the professional. You may need to speak with a few specialists before choosing the person that is best for you.
Check price and insurance. Find out how much the specialist will charge and if your health insurance will cover part or all of the evaluation. Some insurance policies cover evaluation from one kind of specialist, but not from another.
Search the CHADD Professional Directory for treatment professionals and organizations offering help for children and adults with ADD/ADHD.
Diagnosing ADD/ADHD in children
Your role as a parent
When seeking a diagnosis for your child, you are your child’s best advocate and most important source of support. As a parent in this process, your roles are both emotional and practical. You can provide or ensure:
- Emotional support for your child during the diagnostic process.
- The right choice of specialist for your child.
- Unique and helpful information for doctors/specialists.
- Open and honest answers to questions about your child’s history and current adjustment.
- Speed and accuracy of evaluation, and a second opinion if necessary.
The doctor’s or specialist’s role
Usually, more than one professional is typically involved in the assessment process for ADD/ADHD in children. Physicians, clinical psychologists, school psychologists, clinical social workers, speech-language pathologists, learning specialists, and educators may each play an important role in the ADD/ADHD evaluation.
There are no laboratory tests available to determine a diagnosis; instead, clinicians base their conclusions on the observable symptoms and by ruling out other disorders.The specialist who conducts your child’s evaluation will ask you a range of questions that you should open honestly and openly. He or she may also:
- Obtain a thorough medical and family history.
- Order or conduct a general physical and/or neurological exam.
- Lead a comprehensive interview with you, your child, and the child’s teacher(s).
- Use standardized screening tools for ADD/ADHD.
- Observe your child at play or school.
- Use psychological tests in order to measure IQ and social and emotional adjustment.
Simple steps, big difference: getting your child evaluated for ADD/ADHD
Doctors, specialists, testing—it may all feel a little overwhelming to figure out a diagnosis for your child. You can take a lot of the chaos out of the process with the following practical steps.
Make an appointment with a specialist. As the parent, you can initiate testing for ADD/ADHD on behalf of your child. The earlier you schedule this appointment, the more quickly you can get help.
Speak to your child’s school. Call your child’s principal and speak directly and openly about your pursuit for a diagnosis. Public schools are required by law to assist you, and in most cases want to do what they can to make school life better for your child.
Give professionals the full picture. When you are asked the tough questions about your child’s behavior, be sure to answer honestly. Your perspective is very important to the evaluation process.
Keep things moving. You are your child’s advocate, and have the power to prevent delays in getting a diagnosis. Trying not to be pushy, check in with doctors or specialists often to see where you are in the process.
If necessary, get a second opinion. If there is any doubt that your child has received a thorough or appropriate evaluation, you can seek another specialist’s help.
Next week I'll cover finding treatment for ADD/ADHD. Please add any of your questions, comments and experiences to the Comments box.