Whether it’s been a nagging concern or a bolt out of the blue from a teacher or pediatrician, it can feel like a big deal that your child might have ADHD. This can be especially true when you don’t really know that much about it and your imagination eagerly fills in all the gaps with worries and worst-case scenarios. So, let’s replace that anxiety with some real information.
Because ADHD has such strong genetics, one of the first clues might be a genetic relative who has been diagnosed with ADHD (or it is suspected). You will also want to consider whether your child has notable symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity, compared to kids the same age.
The inattentive symptoms would include distractibility, forgetfulness, disorganization, procrastination, poor time management, and losing items. The hyperactive/impulsive symptoms are more visibly obvious and include physical restlessness, impatience with waiting their turn, interrupting, trouble settling for sleep or quiet activities, stirring the pot when bored, and generally leaping without looking first. These symptoms will tend to be lifelong and happen across different settings (at home and at school; this year’s classes and also last year’s).
You can share your concerns with your child’s pediatrician and see if they think it worth further exploration. You can also ask your child’s teacher to see how your child compares to peers. Teachers are informal experts on child development and have a good sense of how individual students stack up, compared to classmates. They can’t make an official diagnosis, but they may nudge you one way or the other. One thing to remember, though, is that likeable, bright students who are inattentive may fly under the radar by compensating with charm and raw intelligence – until the demands exceed those coping skills. By contrast, students who also have the hyperactive/impulsive symptoms tend to make themselves known.
You may also want to talk to friends whose kids have ADHD to see if what they describe sounds familiar. In addition, consulting reputable websites can provide more information.
Seeking an Evaluation
If you feel you need a more official evaluation, you have several options. It’s important that the clinician has sufficient knowledge about ADHD as well as other conditions that can look like ADHD. They also need to spend enough time to take a thorough history of your child’s functioning across time and situations, rather than simply how they are doing right now.
Generally, this means at least an hour, although sometimes pediatricians who have a longstanding relationship with your family may be able to cover the remaining questions in less time. Someone who’s new to your family, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or neurologist, may need more time.
Some clinicians will have parents, teachers, and the child fill out rating scales. They can be a helpful way to gather information from others, but the results still need to be combined with a good diagnostic interview. Although federal policy requires testing be done to qualify for accommodations at school, big testing batteries are often overkill unless a health care professional suspects other learning disabilities.
Understanding the Results
You may get an ADHD diagnosis, perhaps with one of three possible subtypes:
- Inattentive (sometimes called ADD)
- Combined type
Or you may get a diagnosis of something else, like anxiety, depression, or a learning disability. Or you may be told that your child has some features of ADHD, but not enough to cross the threshold for the diagnosis – this may become clearer over time.
Regardless of the diagnosis, don’t freak out! A diagnosis doesn’t change what is, it just changes how we understand it and what we know to do about it. Your child is exactly the same person as they were yesterday. As with so much else in life, knowledge is power, and your whole family will be better off for understanding your child more accurately. In future blogs, I will share my favorite strategies for helping your child live a great life with ADHD, so we will do this together.
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