Choosing a Specialist to Treat ADHD

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on November 26, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP on November 26, 2014

Choosing a Specialist to Treat ADHD

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 a variety of educational, mental health, and pediatric specialists.

Primary Care Doctor

A primary care doctor should be where you go first if you suspect that your child has ADHD. This is your child’s pediatrician. They will attempt to rule out any alternative diagnoses for your child’s symptoms. Your child’s doctor may prescribe medication if they believe that ADHD is causing the symptoms. However, they can’t provide counseling. They may refer you to a mental health specialist who can help your child develop coping strategies to manage the various symptoms of ADHD.

Psychologist

Psychologists are mental health professionals who can provide social skills training and behavior modification therapy. Psychologists have a doctoral degree in psychology.  Psychologists don’t have a medical degree and are not qualified to prescribe medication. If a psychologist believes medication is necessary, they can refer you to a doctor who can issue a prescription.

However, 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 other tests to assess your child’s emotional and social skills.

As a parent of someone with ADHD, you may be under as much stress as your child, and it’s helpful if you have a qualified person to talk to.

Psychiatrist

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 three additional years of training in treating mental health conditions. It’s best to seek out a psychiatrist who has experience treating childhood mental disorders like ADHD.

Social Worker

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. They’ll 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 can’t prescribe medication. If necessary, a social worker may refer you to a doctor who can issue a prescription.

Speech-Language Pathologist

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 to help the child function better in class. The pathologist may also help your child learn to communicate more effectively in social situations. They’ll 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. 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 be a good resource for referrals.

What to Look for in a Specialist

Because coping with ADHD is an intimate process, it’s important to find a specialist you feel comfortable with and whom you think is taking your condition seriously. This can seem difficult, 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 some 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. 

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