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How Is ADHD Assessed?

written by: Lynn-nore Chittom • edited by: Linda Richter • updated: 12/30/2010

Parents sometimes suspect that their child has ADHD but are unsure of what to do and how to proceed with their concerns. This article provides valuable information on ADHD assessment tests and the evaluation process of diagnosing this disorder.

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    Is It ADHD?

    Your four-year-old is spinning around the living room for the hundredth time and seems to have the energy of six kids. Is it ADHD, you wonder. Your little one talks and sing-songs all day long and can't seem to keep quiet for a moment. Could this be ADHD? You think your kids might have hearing trouble. You call and call and they seem to ignore you. Is this a sign of ADHD?

    The answers are yes, yes, and yes. All of these things can be signs of ADHD, but a diagnosis cannot be made on just one symptom. The official basis for an ADHD diagnosis is that a child must demonstrate multiple symptoms which must be present for at least six months and must appear prior to age seven. Common symptoms for ADHD fall into two categories, Inattentive Type and Hyperactive Type. Children may exhibit symptoms on either list or both.

    ADHD - Primarily Inattentive Type

    • Easily distracted
    • Difficulty paying attention
    • Forgetful
    • Difficulty finishing tasks
    • Difficulty with tasks that require concentration

    ADHD - Primarily Hyperactive Type

    • Fidgeting and squirming
    • Frequently getting up to move around
    • Excessive running and climbing, particularly at inappropriate times and in appropriate situations
    • Excessive talking
    • Difficulty playing quietly

    If you suspect that your child has ADHD, a trip to the pediatrician is the first place to start.

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    How Your Pediatrician Can Help

    Even if a teacher is the first one to spot the signs of ADHD, the school will likely refer you to your pediatrician for ADHD assessment tests. After taking a full family history, your pediatrician should supply you with a set of questionnaires to help assess your child's symptoms. Depending on your child's age, there may be a set for you, a set for your child's teacher, and a set for another objective adult in your child's life such as a related arts teacher or religious education teacher. These evaluations include questions of how your child behaves in a variety of settings and situations. The pediatrician may request these questionnaires be returned to him for evaluation or may refer you to a child psychologist or psychiatrist for follow-up treatment. A preliminary diagnosis may be made based on these questionnaires or additional ADHD assessment tests may be recommended.

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    Further Testing

    If your pediatrician suspects ADHD, it is likely that they will request a psycho-educational evaluation be done by an independent psychiatrist or school psychiatrist. Of the different ADHD assessment tests available, the one used most often for children is the Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC). This test provides physicians with a Verbal IQ score, a Performance IQ score, and an Overall IQ score. From these scores, ADHD can be inferred if there are discrepancies between skill levels. For example, a child with a high Performance IQ score, but an average Verbal IQ score, may be great at reasoning and logic, but have difficulties recalling basic information and recognizing common words. This discrepancy can be indicative of struggles with concentration and distractability. This testing along with the responses from the evaluation questionnaires should supply your pediatrician or psychiatrist with enough information to firmly diagnosis ADHD and begin treatment.

    It is possible, though less likely, that your pediatrician may refer your child for brain imaging tests such as the Topometric Functional Brainmapping (QEEG) test. These types of tests confirm the brain patterns common to patients with ADHD, but they provide less useful data for parents and educators as compared to IQ testing.

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    Conclusion

    If you begin to suspect that your child might have ADHD, beginning the process of diagnosis at an early age may prevent future difficulties. It is best to begin the evaluation around Preschool or Kindergarten age, as students quickly fall behind both socially and academically if the disorder remains undiagnosed.

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    Reference

    Duff, J. Behavioural Neuropathy Clinic, Victoria, Australia. ADHD symptoms and assessment, retrieved at http://www.adhd.com.au/ADHD_Assessment.htm

    Smith M, Block J, and Segal J. HelpGuide.org. ADD/ADHD tests & diagnosis, retrieved at http://helpguide.org/mental/adhd_add_diagnosis.htm

    WebMD. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: Symptoms of ADHD, retrieved at http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/guide/adhd-symptoms