Learning more about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can help you recognize its symptoms, but you can’t self-diagnose ADHD. It requires the evaluation of a trained professional.
ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental disorder. It’s seen among children and adults, though it’s typically diagnosed during childhood.
In the United States alone, ADHD affects around
Inattention and hyperactivity are hallmark symptoms of ADHD. With how common the condition is, it’s natural to wonder whether personal challenges related to focus and energy may be undiagnosed ADHD.
Awareness of ADHD symptoms can help you seek a diagnosis, but you can’t self-diagnose ADHD.
As a formal health condition, ADHD requires an evaluation by a qualified medical professional.
You may be able to correctly recognize ADHD symptoms in yourself, but you can’t formally self-diagnose ADHD.
The following medical professionals can diagnose ADHD:
- primary care physicians
- social workers
- professional counselors and therapists
- nurse practitioners
- physician assistants
There are many reasons why complex conditions like ADHD can’t be self-diagnosed without the appropriate level of training.
A formal diagnosis is needed for treatment planning
Even if you correctly identify your symptoms, a professional diagnosis is required to receive most levels of professional care and support services for ADHD.
For example, you won’t be able to prescribe yourself ADHD medications without a professional diagnosis.
ADHD symptoms can overlap with other disorders
Without the correct training, there’s no way to know if what you’re experiencing is truly ADHD.
Medical professionals who diagnose ADHD have in-depth training in these causes as well as the symptoms of ADHD. This allows them to be able to distinguish ADHD from other conditions that may have similar features.
Trained professionals know from their experience and education whether symptoms are from ADHD or another condition, like a sensory processing disorder (SPD). SPD can also have symptoms like restlessness or hyperactivity.
Without this formal training, you cannot accurately determine if what you’re experiencing is ADHD or another condition.
It’s harder to be objective with yourself
The risk of bias and misinterpretation are other reasons only professionals can diagnose ADHD.
Whenever you self-diagnose a health condition, you naturally draw from your personal experiences, preconceived notions, ideas, and fears. These can influence your assessment of your health, possibly skewing the perception of what you’re feeling.
If you have a relative living with ADHD, for example, you may be subconsciously hyperaware of behaviors of inattention or hyperactivity. When you notice these behaviors in yourself, your hyperawareness could make them feel more significant.
A qualified healthcare professional can formally diagnose ADHD when:
- your lived experience matches the diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR)
- other possible causes have been ruled out
The DSM-5-TR identifies ADHD in children by the presence of six or more symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity and/or inattention that have been present for at least 6 months at a rate not consistent with expected development.
In children older than 17 years and in adults, only five symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity and/or inattention are necessary for a diagnosis.
Symptoms aren’t the only determinant of ADHD, however. A trained professional considers the DSM-5-TR criteria, your current medical history, and other symptoms you’re experiencing.
During the evaluation, the professional asks you to describe your average day and the specific challenges you regularly encounter.
They may ask you to describe how, and to what extent, your experience affects important areas of function, like interpersonal relationships, work, or school.
If you’re an adult, the professional may ask you at what age you first noticed symptoms. For a diagnosis of ADHD as an adult, the DSM-5-TR indicates there must be evidence of at least several formal symptoms before 12 years of age.
Before receiving a diagnosis, the professional might request additional testing or consultations with other specialists to rule out other possible conditions.
Although you can’t officially self-diagnose ADHD, it’s possible to accurately recognize the symptoms of ADHD.
Common experiences in ADHD include ongoing patterns of:
- missing details
- careless mistakes
- difficulty staying focused during long-format events, like lectures
- absent listening
- poor time management
- lack of organization
- misplacing important items
- movement inappropriate to a situation, like leaving your seat during class
- excessive talking
- blurting out responses
- excessive drive to be moving
ADHD affects each person differently. Not everyone who is exceedingly restless or talkative has ADHD.
For a formal diagnosis, multiple symptoms must be present over a significant period that impair daily life.
If you think you’re living with undiagnosed ADHD, the first step is discussing your symptoms with a primary care doctor or directly seeking support from a qualified mental health professional.
If you don’t currently have a primary doctor, you can find healthcare services in your area by contacting:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline: 800-662-4357
Only by consulting with a trained professional can you accurately diagnose ADHD and rule out other health conditions.
It can be helpful to learn more about ADHD before your appointment to help increase your understanding of the disorder. However, self-education and self-diagnosis are not replacements for professional care.
Although it may be possible to accurately recognize the signs and symptoms of ADHD, you can’t officially self-diagnose ADHD.
ADHD is a complex condition that may share symptoms with other conditions. Only a trained professional can diagnose ADHD.
If you suspect you’re living with undiagnosed ADHD, talking with a primary care doctor or a mental health professional can start you on the road to an official diagnosis.