Four percent of Americans are affected by ADHD. Since it is a fairly common diagnosis, there is a lot of misinformation out there around what ADHD looks like in children and adults. Many people turn to online tests or trusty old Google to self-diagnose or claim their child has ADHD.  

It’s important to know what to look for if a child or adult is showing ADHD symptoms; however, an official diagnosis must be done by a trained, medical professional in order to properly determine if ADHD is the problem. The sooner ADHD is identified by a specialist; the sooner the child or adult can get appropriate treatment, and go on to live a happier and healthier life.

The following steps should be taken to get an official ADHD diagnosis:


Look for ADHD Signs and Symptoms

The first step is to determine if the suspected behavior is evidence of ADHD. Symptoms may look differently in children and adults.

For children, they should show six or more of the following ADHD symptoms. Additionally, these symptoms must be present for 6 months or more, noticed before age 12, and have the potential to cause significant impairment or difficulty in two or more settings, like home, school or work, or social settings.:

  • Issues staying organized
  • Problems completing tasks
  • Lack of focus with activities
  • Behavior trouble
  • Poor social skills while at school or playing with other children
  • No executive functioning skills
  • Doesn’t listen in conversations
  • No attention to detail
  • Loses belongings
  • Forgetful
  • Gets distracted easily
  • Avoids activities that require ongoing mental effort
  • Can’t sit still
  • Difficulty playing quietly
  • Interrupts in conversations
  • Struggles to wait his or her turn
  • Talks too much


Adults, which for this diagnosis includes people aged 17 and older, may show similar symptoms that lead them to face personal and professional conflict, demonstrating similarly disruptive behaviors or symptoms in a variety of settings. However, they only need to exhibit 5 or more of the following signs, as the visibility of signs can decrease with age, even if they are still present:


  • Difficulty with day-to-day tasks (completing chores, paying bills on time, staying organized)
  • Memory problems
  • Issues meeting full potential at work or school
  • Strained relationships (forgets important events, easily angered over small things, trouble following through on things)
  • Obstacles at work (quitting or losing jobs often)
  • Consistently stressed and worried about unmet goals and unfulfilled responsibilities
  • Anxiety or depression


Find an ADHD Medical Professional

After determining that enough of the symptoms are signs of ADHD, it’s important to seek a trained medical professional for an official diagnosis. It’s crucial to not make assumptions simply based on observed behavior.

To find a qualified ADHD specialist, family doctors are typically good starting points for referrals. Family physicians may or may not have the qualifications to conduct the evaluation. If not, he or she most likely has a large referral network to point patients in the right direction.


Other useful referral sources:

  • Teachers
  • Fellow parents
  • Therapists
  • Local ADHD organizations
  • National ADHD associations
  • Friends
  • Support groups


It’s critical to make sure the referred medical professionals have specialized training and experience in diagnosing ADHD. These specialists are most likely pediatricians, psychologists, psychiatrists or advanced practice registered nurses.


Get the Proper ADHD Evaluations and Tests

The initial appointment with the chosen ADHD medical professional can take at least 30 minutes or longer. The specialist will ask a list of questions to figure out the challenges and stressors a child or adult is facing. With the patient’s permission, the doctor might reach out to family members to get additional opinions about the child’s or adult’s behavior.

The most productive tests will not only determine if someone has ADHD, but will also verify other mental health issues. Various testing methods are used, but the most common one is rating scales. This method can figure out the severity or frequency of the ADHD symptoms.


Other testing methods could include:

  • Computer tests
  • Broad-spectrum scales, which assess social, psychiatric and emotional issues
  • Intelligence tests
  • Neuropsychological testing


If the above tests don’t support or clarify an ADHD diagnosis, then a psychologist might be recommended to do further examination.


Next Steps After an ADHD Diagnosis

Once an ADHD diagnosis has been made, the doctor will recommend a treatment plan. It might be upsetting or intimidating to get an ADHD diagnosis, but it’s imperative to know it’s the first step for an improved life. An ADHD treatment plan should not be delayed.


For more information about how to get an official ADHD diagnosis, the ADHD Wellness Center can help.

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