Although many attempts have been made to identify ADHD using standardized psychological testing, there is no standard test or set of tests to diagnose ADHD. The diagnosis is a matter of degree and must be made by a mental health professional with experience in this area who has thoroughly assessed your child’s behavior in a variety of situations.
Family and teachers or employers (in the case of teens or adults) must be involved in this process. All the elements of the evaluation are matters of opinion, expectation, and comparison. Furthermore, all the behaviors associated with ADHD are normal, to some degree, in all children at certain stages of development.
It is important to identify other possible causes for the inappropriate behavior. This may include:
Children with ADHD often have other problems, such as:
Comprehensive testing and evaluation is key to properly assessing your child.
The most detailed diagnostic criteria are found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Because most cases of ADHD are diagnosed in childhood, diagnostic criteria are geared toward children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the following guidelines be used for diagnosis in children 4-18 years old:
Evaluation should be initiated if a child shows signs of:
During diagnosis, the following information should be gathered directly from parents, caregivers, teachers, or other school professionals:
The healthcare professional should examine the child for other conditions that might be causing or aggravating symptoms, such as:
For a diagnosis of ADHD to be made, symptoms must:
Connors Continuous Performance Testing (CPT), a computerized attention test, is often used to help confirm the diagnosis of ADHD. Examples of standardized behavior checklists that also assist in diagnosing ADHD include:
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Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). American Psychiatric Association; 2013.
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Understanding ADHD: Information for parents. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/adhd/Pages/Understanding-ADHD.aspx. Updated January 9, 2017. Accessed October 4, 2017.
10/28/2011 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113926/Attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-ADHD-in-children-and-adolescents: Subcommittee on Attention-deficit/hyperactivity Disorder, Steering Committee on Quality Improvement and Management. ADHD: clinical practice guideline for the diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2011;128(5):1007-1022.
Last reviewed September 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated: 12/11/2020