One of my specializations as a child psychologist is the evaluation of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). As a result, many parents often ask me “Does my child have ADHD?” and “Should they be on medicine?” For me, those are not quick and easy questions to answer. Why? Because before I diagnose any child with ADHD and make recommendations for their treatment, there’s A LOT of information that I need to gather and analyze!
As a parent and a professional, I feel strongly that a thorough evaluation is necessary before making a diagnosis of ADHD (or any disorder) and recommending treatment options. Think about this analogy. Imagine your son’s teacher suggests to you that your child might have a vision problem. Would you go online and take a vision questionnaire and then order a pair of glasses based on the results? Of course not! If you’re like me, you would be incredibly appreciative to the teacher for their concern, and then you would make an appointment with an optometrist to have your child’s vision thoroughly evaluated. IF the results from the testing showed a vision impairment, THEN you would get them glasses from a qualified professional. Not before!
This same line of thinking applies to ADHD, as well. If you or your child’s teacher suspects that he or she is having trouble with inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity, then a thorough evaluation is necessary to determine the nature of their difficulties before considering medication as a treatment option. There are many medications that help children with ADHD considerably, but if you’re like me, you probably only want your child to take medication if it is absolutely necessary.
In a my dream world, every child that exhibits symptoms of ADHD would get a thorough evaluation by a licensed child psychologist before being prescribed medication from their physician. You’d hate to have your child put on medicine for ADHD when a full psychological evaluation might have revealed a Learning Disorder or problems with depression or anxiety. Or, like many children with ADHD, your child might suffer from multiple conditions which might go undetected without a full assessment.
Unfortunately, there are often factors that get in the way of a child being thoroughly evaluated before receiving treatment. In my opinion, the most common obstacles are time and money. A full psychological evaluation can take a lot of time and can be expensive. Sometimes your health insurance will cover the costs, but sometimes it doesn’t. So, I’ll concede that there are situations where a full psychological evaluation may not be feasible.
But, back in my dream world where time and money are abundant, here are some things that I like to include when I assess a child for ADHD:
- A thorough interview with both the parent and child (and ideally their teachers).
- A review of the child’s psychological, academic, and medical records, including confirmation of a recent exam by their physician to rule out any medical issues or hearing or vision impairments that could be contributing to their symptoms.
- A mental status examination.
- An intelligence test.
- A test of academic achievement.
- Rating scales about behavioral and emotional problems completed by the child, their parents, and their teachers.
- Rating scales about ADHD symptoms completed by the parents and teachers.
- A continuous performance task.
- Behavioral observations of the child in the clinic and in their school environment. If a school observation isn’t feasible, then structured clinic observations of the child completing academic work.
- And last but not least, any other test or measure that appears warranted given the child’s specific situation, symptoms, or test results.
If you’re worried that your child may have ADHD, get in contact with your child’s pediatrician for a full physical evaluation (including vision and hearing screenings). Then locate a child psychologist in your area to obtain a full psychological evaluation for your child. Some school systems even have psychologists available to assist with the evaluation. Your child’s psychologist will help select the best assessment for your child and get you on the right track to answering your question, “Does my child have ADHD?”