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Diagnosing ADHD

written by: alexisaiger • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 4/26/2011

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders and also affects 4.1 percent of adults. Learn some basic information about the diagnostic criteria mental health professionals use to determine if someone has ADHD.

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    Inattention

    An individual diagnosed with predominantly inattentive type ADHD must meet certain ADHD diagnostic criteria. This includes presenting with at least six symptoms of inattention that have lasted for six months or longer. Further, these symptoms of inattention must be outside the realm of normal childhood development and must be severe enough to interfere with daily life.

    An individual with predominantly inattentive type ADHD may fail to pay attention to details, making careless mistakes in schoolwork, work or other activities, or they may simply not finish schoolwork or other obligations for no apparent reason. The individual may lose concentration on tasks or playing, be easily distracted and have trouble managing and organizing multiple obligations or activities. They may also have a tendency to forget what needs to be accomplished or lose things that are needed to accomplish tasks.

    When directly spoken to, the individual may appear not to listen, and may be difficult to engage in tasks that the individual dislikes or that require active thought processes and effort.

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    Hyperactivity or Impulsivity

    The predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type of ADHD, like inattentive type, requires at least six symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity to be present and to have lasted for at least six months in order to meet ADHD diagnostic criteria. Again, these symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with daily life and must be outside the realm of normal childhood development. For this type of ADHD diagnosis it is particularly important to take normal childhood development and situational environment into account, because many young children may present with signs of hyperactivity or impulsivity as a normal part of their development.

    An individual presenting with symptoms of hyperactivity may appear to constantly be moving and have trouble sitting still. They will frequently squirm, fidget, or leave their seat unexpectedly. The individual may run or climb in situations where such behavior is inappropriate, and they may not be able to easily participate in quiet activities. Not only may the individual be physically mobile frequently, but they may also talk much more than their typical peers.

    Impulsivity symptoms of the predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD may include answering questions without following proper protocol such as answering before the question has even been finished. An individual with impulsivity symptoms may have trouble waiting for their turn and may often interrupt others. Interruptions may take the form of butting into a conversation or even into a game or other activity.

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    Additional Criteria

    In addition to meeting at least six symptoms from the inattention or hyperactivity and impulsivity categories, an individual must meet other ADHD diagnostic criteria for a true diagnosis to be made.

    1) Though a diagnosis may not be made until years later, there must be evidence of the existence of symptoms before the age of seven.

    2) The symptoms must affect the life of the individual in at least two different environments. For example, the symptoms must affect the individual at school and at home, or at work and at school.

    3) The symptoms must cause serious difficulty in the success of the individual's social, academic or occupational life.

    4) The symptoms must not be a result of another mental disorder.

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    Combined Type

    An individual may be diagnosed with combined type ADHD if they have six or more symptoms from both the inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity category. And the symptoms of both categories must have been present for at least the last six months. Combined type ADHD must also meet the additional criteria of the ADHD diagnosis.

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    Reference

    American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Retrieved from Psychiatry eBooks Online.

    National Institute of Mental Health. The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America.