Children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) face an array of challenges, including problems in school and in social situations. That’s why comprehensive treatment is key. A child with ADHD should see an array of educational, mental health, and pediatric specialists.
Internist/Primary Care Doctor
Likely a pediatrician or family practice physician, a primary care doctor should be the first medical professional you turn to if you suspect that your child has ADHD. They will first attempt to rule out any alternative diagnoses for your child’s symptoms. If your doctor believes that ADHD is causing the symptoms, they may prescribe medication, but cannot provide counseling. Your doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist who can help your child develop coping strategies to manage the debilitating symptoms of ADHD.
Psychologists are mental health professionals who can provide social skills training and behavior modification therapy. A doctoral degree in psychology is usually required to enter private practice. Psychologists do not have medical degrees and are not qualified to prescribe medication, but they may be able to help your child overcome the symptoms of ADHD by other means. Psychologists may test your child’s IQ and use a series of other tests to assess your child’s emotional and social skills. If a psychologist determines that medication is necessary, they can refer you to a doctor who can issue a prescription.
As a parent of someone with ADHD, you’re under as much stress—if not more stress—than your child, so it’s helpful if you have a qualified person to talk to.
Psychiatrists are mental health professionals who have the ability to diagnose ADHD, prescribe medication to treat it, and provide counseling or therapy to patients with the disorder. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have had three additional years of training in treating mental health conditions. It is best to seek out a psychiatrist who has experience treating childhood mental disorders, such as ADHD.
Social workers are professionals who focus specifically on helping people cope with issues in their everyday lives. A social worker may observe your child in order to document mood swings and behavior patterns, and then work with you and your child to make changes that will help your child be more successful in social situations. Social workers who treat ADHD have a master’s degree in social work, but will most likely not have a medical degree and therefore cannot prescribe medication. If necessary, a social worker may refer you to a doctor who can issue a prescription.
Some children with ADHD have problems with speech and language development and may need to be referred to a speech-language pathologist. A speech-language pathologist may work with your child’s teacher to change the classroom environment as needed to help the child function better in class. The pathologist may also help your child learn to communicate more effectively in social situations and work to help your child develop better planning, organization, and study skills.
How to Find the Right Specialist
The first step is to call your health insurance company to find out which services are covered and whether they have a list of mental health specialists in your area who are in-network. With that information, you can then ask your doctor or your child’s pediatrician for a referral. Your pediatrician should have the names of therapists in your area who focus on childhood mental disorders. Another way to get recommendations is to talk to other parents of children with ADHD. Those parents can tell you whom their child has seen with good results.
What to Look for in a Specialist
Because coping with ADHD is an intimate process, it is important to find a specialist you feel comfortable with and whom you think is taking your condition seriously. This can be daunting at first, especially if you’ve never met with a mental health provider. It might take some trial and error before settling in with the right therapist.
Once you have a few recommendations, call each specialist and ask questions about their practice. These may include how much experience they have treating ADHD, which methods they use to treat ADHD, and how easy it is to make appointments. You might need to try out a few different therapists before you find someone you can trust and talk with openly. If you or your child starts to see one specialist and you decide that it’s not working, you can always try another.