Almost five percent of Americans have ADHD, with numbers varying between four and nine percent across different age ranges for children and adults.
That’s a lot.
That means almost one in every twenty people you meet could have ADHD or associated symptoms. But it’s important to remember that ADHD doesn’t present the same way in everyone that has it. Not only is there a long list of symptoms and behaviors, but each individual experiences a different level of ADHD symptoms for all kinds of reasons.
Before all that, though, we have to answer the most important question — how do you know when it’s actually ADHD?
Why ADHD is Difficult to Diagnose
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or what used to be called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), is a mental health concern.
Like all mental health issues, it’s not exactly a single symptom issue. Rather, ADHD tends to refer to a set of behaviors and symptoms that, when considered together, are diagnosed as the actual disorder.
That means an official diagnosis hinges on a consideration or study of behaviors, symptoms, and a person’s overall mental health over time. It’s not like you can walk into the doctor’s office and get a blood test that says you’re ADHD positive.
Most mental health conditions simply don’t work that way.
The Social Component
The lack of physical or chemical test to determine the presence of ADHD or other mental health concerns is the first barrier between you and an official diagnosis.
The second barrier, which is oddly enough the one most people experience first, is the wild amount of misinformation and misdiagnosis.
How many times have you heard someone say, “I just can’t focus, I must have ADHD!” How many people have seen an energetic kid and offered an armchair diagnosis of ADHD for a five year old that doesn’t want to sit still?
Spoiler alert: five years like to move around, it’s not immediately a signal of mental health concerns.
Over the last few years, mental health awareness has done a great deal to shed light on the importance of professional diagnosis, therapy, seeking help, and pursuing official channels of mental healthcare.
Unfortunately, the social aspect of self diagnosis is just about everywhere.
It’s so easy to go online and compare symptoms these days, that just about everyone imagines they have some kind of mental or physical malady.
Self diagnosis, or unprofessional diagnosis is incredibly unreliable because it incorporates personal bias, a lack of mental health context, and relatively little knowledge of medical history. When it comes to mental health issues, symptoms can often signal any number of diagnoses — an inability to focus could be ADHD, but it’s also incredibly common for people with anxiety, depression, PTSD, or just a generally short attention span.
Getting an Official Diagnosis
This is why it’s so incredibly important to get an official diagnosis, which involves speaking to a mental health care provider and undergoing a process of actual behavioral analysis. An uninformed diagnosis is not only unhelpful, it could be missing key aspects of a person’s mental health that require attention and specialized care.
Where to Start
Now, I know we said that self diagnosis is a no go.
And that’s mostly true, but you should still familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of ADHD so you know when it’s time to get a professional involved.
It’s true that ADHD is more common, or more commonly recognized, in children and teens. So if you’re a parent, teacher, healthcare provider, or other person who spends time working closely with children here are some of the signs and symptoms you should watch for:
Symptoms of ADHD in Children
- 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
- 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
You’ve probably noticed that many of these symptoms are also very common behaviors for children in general.
Before you pursue an official diagnosis, filter these behaviors through a few more questions.
How severe is the behavior?
Generally speaking, ADHD is a diagnosis reserved for when these behaviors present a significant challenge to a person’s ability to go about their usual routine.
This can manifest in a number of different ways, from problems with academic performance to social issues like talking too much, interrupting others, or appearing constantly restless.
How long have these behaviors been present?
Symptoms of ADHD are typically present from a very young age. So whether you’re diagnosing an adult or a child, you should consider when these behaviors began.
Additionally, an official diagnosis will usually expect these behaviors to present a present and constant challenge for at least six months.
Can you rule out environmental factors?
Finally, you’ll want to assess a person’s behavior across multiple environments. ADHD is a behavioral diagnosis, which means a person with ADHD is going to experience symptoms regardless of their environment.
Of course, the environment can influence behavior. Maybe it’s hard to focus at home or at school or at work, but if it’s hard to focus at all three? It may be time to seek an official diagnosis.
Looking for Adult ADHD
Most people are diagnosed with ADHD in childhood. It doesn’t magically go away when you age, but people often don’t talk about ADHD in adults because it can be a bit more difficult to recognize.
For ADHD, anyone 17 or older is considered an adult.
If you or someone you know might have undiagnosed ADHD as an adult, you’ll recognize a lot of the same symptoms. In fact, the diagnosis process is going to be fairly similar, with a few adjustments.
For an adult diagnosis, all the same considerations for childhood ADHD should apply, but adults need to exhibit fewer symptoms before an official diagnosis may be given or pursued:
Symptoms of ADHD in Adults
- 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
Once you recognize enough symptoms, the next step is seeking out a trained medical professional for an official diagnosis. Remember, simply recognizing the signs is not a substitute for official diagnosis and professional care and treatment.
To find a qualified ADHD specialist, start with a trusted source for referrals.
Family doctors are an excellent place to start because they are often familiar with the person seeking a diagnosis. 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:
- Fellow parents
- Local ADHD organizations
- National ADHD associations
- 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.
What to Consider When Choosing an ADHD Specialist
Working with an ADHD specialist is kind of like a mix between finding a new therapist and finding a specialist. You want to consider not only their professional and medical qualifications, but also whether or not their approach to diagnosis and treatment aligns with your interests.
To start, you’ll want to work with a doctor that is actually specifically trained in evaluating and treating ADHD. While a wide range of mental health professionals are certainly capable of providing an accurate diagnosis, some specialize in certain mental health issues, or at least have a history of working with a specific group of patients.
In this case, ADHD is a fairly common mental health concern, which means there are usually specialists that spend a lot of their time working with ADHD patients. This simply means that they are likely to have a deeper pool of knowledge and experience when it comes to recognizing, diagnosing, and treating ADHD, even if a patient’s symptoms are obscured by age or other factors.
Finding the Right Fit
Because ADHD is a mental health concern, there are all kinds of ways that people go about treating and caring for ADHD patients. It’s kind of like shopping around for a therapist.
Most ADHD specialists are extremely professional and compassionate, but you may find that some have personalities or experience that is closer to what makes you or your child more comfortable.
Quicklook Specialist Checklist
- Ask around. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor, friends, or local ADHD groups what specialists are like. It’s important that you seek diagnoses and care with someone that you trust and feel comfortable working with.
- Don’t force a fit. If you start working with an ADHD specialist and it doesn’t feel like the right match, don’t be afraid to discuss your concerns with your specialist and potentially seek treatment elsewhere. Most professional ADHD specialists will understand and may even have suggestions for other, more suitable options.
- Find multiple support avenues. Getting a diagnosis and beginning a journey towards discovery, whether it’s personal mental health or the mental health of someone close to you, can be a big undertaking. Seek out support not only from a professional, but also close friends or ADHD focused communities that can help you along the way.
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 a child 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.
Getting Comfortable with a Diagnosis
It’s important to remember that getting a professional diagnosis is not always a process that people expect, particularly when it comes to mental health.
Working with your chosen ADHD specialist to provide the information they need, and pushing towards the most accurate and complete analysis of behavior is going to be significantly more beneficial for the mental health of any child or adult involved.
It can be a big uncomfortable, but once the analysis and diagnosis are complete, you can begin working on the development of treatment plans and other routines designed to support and improve the lives of patients with ADHD!
A Positive Outlook
For anyone considering seeking out an ADHD diagnosis for the first time, don’t worry.
While ADHD certainly does have a significant impact on your life and experiences, it is incredibly easy to manage. Many people find a way to work with their ADHD and lead incredibly successful and focused lives.
Working with an ADHD specialist is an excellent way to figure out how ADHD impacts you on an individual level. Once you figure out how your ADHD affects you, it’s possible to develop routines and treatment plans with your doctor so that you can live your life how you want to live.
Next Steps After an ADHD Diagnosis
Once you have an official ADHD diagnosis, it’s important to continue working with your doctor or community to develop healthy routines and treatment plans that will improve your life. Remember, even though an official diagnosis can be upsetting or intimidating at first, a diagnosis is an imperative first step to improving your life.
Once you’ve discussed, planned, and decided to implement these treatment plans with your doctor, the next step is sticking with them. We’ve seen time and time again that routine and quality treatment can drastically improve your experience with things that ADHD may have made difficult before.
In some cases, treatment isn’t even about counteracting ADHD, but rather learning how to incorporate your unique traits into everyday life. Finding a good balance between treatment and education is ideal, which is one of the pillars of ADHD Wellness Center.
For more information about how to get an official ADHD diagnosis, the ADHD Wellness Center can help.