Diagnostic Tests for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder


Diagnostic Test list for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: The list of diagnostic tests mentioned in various sources as used in the diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder includes:

  • Parent consultant
  • Teacher consultation
  • Psychological assessment
  • Dietary changes - may possibly rule out certain food reactions.

Tests and diagnosis discussion for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A reliable diagnosis of ADHD can be made with well-tested diagnostic interview methods. Diagnosis is based on history and visible behaviors in the child's normal environment. A doctor making a diagnosis should ask for input from the child, parents, teachers, and other health care providers. The doctor will collect information on a thorough history about the symptoms, and on the medical, developmental, school, psychosocial, and family histories. He or she also will consider other causes for the problem, and review other conditions that could be present. It is helpful to find out what has prompted the request for evaluation and how the problems had been approached in the past. At this time, there is no single test for ADHD. This is not unique to ADHD, but applies to most psychiatric disorders. 1

Diagnosing and treating ADHD in adults can help them put their problems into perspective, better understand the reasons for many of their lifelong symptoms, and improve their self-esteem, work performance and skills, educational abilities and social skills. Also, adults with ADHD are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which does not allow discrimination in public accommodations, like education, and employment. 1

The diagnosis of ADHD in the preschool child is possible, but can be difficult and should be made cautiously by experts well trained in childhood neurobehavioral disorders. Developmental problems, especially language delays, and adjustment problems can sometimes look like ADHD. Treatment should focus on placing the child in a structured preschool with parent training and support. Stimulants can reduce difficult behavior and improve mother-child interactions, but they usually are saved for severe cases, or when a child is unresponsive to environmental or behavioral interventions. 1

According to the diagnostic manual, there are three patterns of behavior that indicate ADHD. People with ADHD may show several signs of being consistently inattentive. They may have a pattern of being hyperactive and impulsive. Or they may show all three types of behavior.

    According to the DSM, signs of inattention include:

  • becoming easily distracted by irrelevant sights and sounds
  • failing to pay attention to details and making careless mistakes
  • rarely following instructions carefully and completely
  • losing or forgetting things like toys, or pencils, books, and tools needed for a task

    Some signs of hyperactivity and impulsivityare:

  • feeling restless, often fidgeting with hands or feet, or squirming
  • running, climbing, or leaving a seat, in situations where sitting or quiet behavior is expected
  • blurting out answers before hearing the whole question
  • having difficulty waiting in line or for a turn

Because everyone shows some of these behaviors at times, the DSM contains very specific guidelines for determining when they indicate ADHD. The behaviors must appear early in life, before age 7, and continue for at least 6 months. In children, they must be more frequent or severe than in others the same age. Above all, the behaviors must create a real handicap in at least two areas of a person's life, such as school, home, work, or social settings. So someone whose work or friendships are not impaired by these behaviors would not be diagnosed with ADHD. Nor would a child who seems overly active at school but functions well elsewhere.2

Next the specialist gathers information on the child's ongoing behavior in order to compare these behaviors to the symptoms and diagnostic criteria listed in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). This involves talking with the child and if possible, observing the child in class and in other settings.

The child's teachers, past and present, are asked to rate their observations of the child's behavior on standardized evaluation forms to compare the childžs behaviors to those of other children the same age. Of course, rating scales are subjective--they only capture the teacher's personal perception of the child. Even so, because teachers get to know so many children, their judgment of how a child compares to others is usually accurate.

The specialist interviews the child's teachers, parents, and other people who know the child well, such as school staff and baby-sitters. Parents are asked to describe their child's behavior in a variety of situations. They may also fill out a rating scale to indicate how severe and frequent the behaviors seem to be.

In some cases, the child may be checked for social adjustment and mental health. Tests of intelligence and learning achievement may be given to see if the child has a learning disability and whether the disabilities are in all or only certain parts of the school curriculum.

In looking at the data, the specialist pays special attention to the child's behavior during noisy or unstructured situations, like parties, or during tasks that require sustained attention, like reading, working math problems, or playing a board game. Behavior during free play or while getting individual attention is given less importance in the evaluation. In such situations, most children with ADHD are able to control their behavior and perform well.

The specialist then pieces together a profile of the child's behavior. Which ADHD-like behaviors listed in the DSM does the child show? How often? In what situations? How long has the child been doing them? How old was the child when the problem started? Are the behaviors seriously interfering with the child's friendships, school activities, or home life? Does the child have any other related problems? The answers to these questions help identify whether the child's hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention are significant and long-standing. If so, the child may be diagnosed with ADHD.

Adults are diagnosed for ADHD based on their performance at home and at work. When possible, their parents are asked to rate the person's behavior as a child. A spouse or roommate can help rate and evaluate current behaviors. But for the most part, adults are asked to describe their own experiences. One symptom is a sense of frustration. Since people with ADHD are often bright and creative, they often report feeling frustrated that they're not living up to their potential. Many also feel restless and are easily bored. Some say they need to seek novelty and excitement to help channel the whirlwind in their minds. Although it may be impossible to document when these behaviors first started, most adults with ADHD can give examples of being inattentive, impulsive, overly active, impatient, and disorganized most of their lives.2

Diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: medical news summaries: The following medical news items are relevant to diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder:

1. excerpt from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): NWHIC
2. excerpt from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: NIMH

Last revision: July 1, 2003

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