Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurological disorders in children. There is no single cause of ADHD nor is there one specific test used to diagnose it. Instead, doctors rely on making diagnoses based on numerous observational symptoms and factors. These include family history, a behavioral analysis, and facts surrounding birth. An accurate diagnosis is dependent on an honest assessment of you or your child.
ADHD is traditionally diagnosed during childhood. Prior to May 2013, mental health professionals diagnosed most children who showed symptoms before age six. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual changed these guidelines, updating it to state that symptoms of ADHD can show up as late as 12 years of age. Early diagnosis is encouraged to prevent learning and social-communication problems. Still, many undiagnosed adults are diagnosed with ADHD well beyond their school years.
Inattention is just one aspect of ADHD. To be diagnosed with ADHD, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that an individual must possess five to six symptoms, lasting for a minimum of six months. The symptoms are not age-appropriate.
Possible signs include:
- easily distracted
- problems listening when someone talks to him/her directly
- careless mistakes at work or school
- problems finishing tasks before moving on to others
- loses common items easily
- strongly dislikes homework, school work, or desk work at the office
- organization difficulties
Hyperactivity is another part of ADHD. Most diagnosed patients exhibit some signs of inattention, as well as hyperactivity. The CDC reports the same diagnostic statistical requirements for hyperactivity as inattention.
Some symptoms of hyperactivity include:
- talks excessively
- speaks without cue, and interrupts conversations
- inability to sit still when required
- difficulty taking turns
- dislikes leisure activities, and is always on the run
- fidgets around excessively (even when standing)
- leaves a room when inappropriate
- extremely restless
According to the CDC, a diagnosis is made in children who show six total symptoms. Only five symptoms are required for a diagnosis in patients over the age of 17. These symptoms are derived from a combination of inattention and hyperactivity, or even both. The signs of ADHD differ between individuals, so it’s important to look at both sets of criteria. Adults may have problems that extend beyond the basic diagnostic criteria. One such problem is difficulty maintaining relationships.
Once diagnosed, a doctor will provide you with an ADHD “presentation.” This is based on the signs of inattention and/or hyperactivity. It’s important to note that such a presentation can change in the future based on altered symptoms. There are three types:
- Combined Presentation (includes both symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity)
- Predominantly Inattentive Presentation (mostly inattentive)
- Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation (mostly hyperactive)
Treatment can help alleviate symptoms of ADHD and is considered very important because there is no cure for the disorder. ADHD is treated with medications and psychotherapy, sometimes including anti-depressants or stimulants. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a method used to transform negative behaviors into positive ones. Therapy can help modify behaviors that may lead to problems in adulthood.
ADHD is complex. Not all patients have the same symptoms-- one of the reasons why the diagnosis process seems so slow. Neurologists also work to make sure that other disorders aren’t mistaken for ADHD. Some examples include:
- developmental delays
- learning problems
- thyroid disease
- mood disorders
- substance abuse
By ruling out related conditions, you can avoid a misdiagnosis. Be thorough with your health history, and tell your doctor about any physical or behavioral changes you’ve observed.