The first step in determining if a child has ADHD is to consult with a pediatrician, a doctor who treats children. The pediatrician can make an initial evaluation of the child's developmental maturity compared to other children in his or her age group. The doctor also should perform a comprehensive physical examination to rule out any organic causes of ADHD symptoms, such as an overactive thyroid or vision or hearing problems.
If no organic problem can be found, a psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, neuropsychologist, or learning specialist typically is consulted to perform a comprehensive ADHD assessment. A complete medical, family, social, psychiatric, and educational history is compiled from existing medical and school records and from interviews with parents and teachers. Interviews also may be conducted with the child, depending on his or her age. Along with these interviews, several clinical inventories also may be used, such as the Conners Rating Scales (Teacher's Questionnaire and Parent's Questionnaire), Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), and the Achenbach Child Behavior Rating Scales. These inventories provide valuable information on the child's behavior in different settings and situations. In addition, the Wender Utah Rating Scale has been adapted for use in diagnosing ADHD in adults.
It is important to note that mental disorders such as depression and anxiety disorder can cause symptoms similar to ADHD. A complete and comprehensive psychiatric assessment is critical to differentiate ADHD from other possible mood and behavioral disorders. Bipolar disorder, for example, may be misdiagnosed as ADHD.
Public schools are required by federal law to offer free ADHD testing upon request. A pediatrician also can provide a referral to a psychologist or pediatric specialist for ADHD assessment. Parents should check with their insurance plans to see if these services are covered.
Kim Sharp, Teresa G. Odle, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,