How Do They Test for ADHD? Here’s What You Need to Know

Have you ever witnessed a sudden disruption of focus or a seemingly out-of-place burst of energy? ADHD isn’t just about the restless child in the classroom or the distracted colleague at work. It’s a complex neurological condition deeply misunderstood by many. In today’s fast-paced world, quick labels often replace genuine understanding. Many see ADHD as […]

therapist william snyder By William Snyder, LPC

Updated on Jan 12, 2024

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Have you ever witnessed a sudden disruption of focus or a seemingly out-of-place burst of energy? ADHD isn’t just about the restless child in the classroom or the distracted colleague at work. It’s a complex neurological condition deeply misunderstood by many.

In today’s fast-paced world, quick labels often replace genuine understanding. Many see ADHD as mere inattention or hyperactivity, overlooking the underlying problems. But how do people know if they truly have the condition? How do they test for ADHD?

Imagine walking through a labyrinth; each turn appears more confusing than the last. This is how the world feels to many people with ADHD. And for those seeking clarity, diagnosis is the compass to guide them through this maze.

This comprehensive guide serves as a map, navigating the complex waters of ADHD diagnosis. By the end, you’ll have a clearer understanding of this condition and the tools that diagnose those affected.

Understanding ADHD: A Brief Overview

ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is a neurobiological condition sometimes referred to as attention-deficit disorder (ADD) in the past. Persistent patterns of inattention, impulsivity, and, in some cases, hyperactivity characterize the disorder. These symptoms of ADHD are present in multiple settings, like home, school, or work, and often lead to impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning.

It’s important to note that everyone, at some point, may experience symptoms similar to ADHD. For example, you may have a day when you feel particularly scattered or experience a time when sitting still feels almost impossible. However, for those with ADHD, these symptoms aren’t fleeting or occasional. They’re consistent and often interfere with daily life.

The Three Types of ADHD

ADHD isn’t a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. There are three primary types:

Predominantly Inattentive Type (ADHD-I)

This is often what people think of as the “quiet” form of ADHD. Those with this type primarily display symptoms of inattention and distractibility, such as missing details, always making careless mistakes, or having difficulty focusing on one task.

Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type (ADHD-H)

As the name suggests, people with this type of ADHD mainly exhibit symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity, like restlessness, impatience, or speaking out of turn.

Combined Type (ADHD-C)

Combined Type is the most common form of ADHD and includes significant symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity.

Recognizing the specific type of ADHD is paramount for tailored treatment and support, ensuring that interventions address the individual’s most prominent challenges.

Why Proper Diagnosis Is Crucial

Understanding ADHD goes beyond mere symptom recognition. Proper diagnosis is crucial, especially in early childhood, when ADHD individuals might face other comorbid disorders like depression and anxiety. In the U.S., over six million children grapple with this condition, with 388,000 children with ADHD aged two to five years, 2.4 million children between six to 11, and 3.3 million adolescents with ADHD between 12 to 17 years. 

Additionally, as much as 50-75% of girls go undiagnosed, which would significantly increase these numbers. These figures underscore the pressing need for a timely and accurate diagnosis. 

Early and precise intervention leads to a higher chance of developing effective management of ADHD and paves the way for nurturing parenting practices. These practices can profoundly shape a child’s mental development, steering them towards a healthier, balanced life.

Even if an individual misses gaining a diagnosis during childhood, it’s never too late to receive a proper ADHD diagnosis. This way, they can learn coping strategies to regulate their mood swings and achieve a balanced lifestyle.

How Is ADHD Diagnosed in Children and Adults?

ADHD may present differently depending on age. Signs in children are more visible as they often show difficulty staying seated or daydreaming during tasks. Adults with ADHD can be harder to detect since their symptoms may be more internal. Some common signs are constantly missing deadlines, engaging in impulsive buying, and feeling overwhelmed or unable to focus on tasks.

Age-Related Factors

Age matters when diagnosing people with ADHD. For kids, the focus is on behaviors that deviate from norms. A toddler’s boundless energy is expected, but it might raise eyebrows in a pre-teen. Adolescents with hormones and evolving social landscapes have their own ADHD indicators. 

In adults, persistent issues affecting relationships may be symptoms of undiagnosed ADHD. Considering age-specific factors helps clinicians offer targeted and effective diagnoses for children and younger adults.

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Diagnosing ADHD in Children

As a parent, if you suspect your child may have ADHD, navigating the diagnosis process can feel overwhelming. The good news is that the American Academy of Pediatrics outlines a transparent diagnostic process:

1. Initial Screening 

Observed behaviors or academic struggles often prompt this starting point. A primary care clinician often conducts this preliminary assessment.

2. Comprehensive Psychological Testing 

This phase engages several questionnaire tools and techniques to gauge cognitive abilities, academic skills, and emotional functioning. Some of the most widely used assessment tools include:

3. Physical Examination and Medical History 

To rule out other medical conditions that might mimic ADHD symptoms, a thorough physical exam and detailed medical history are essential. Physical assessments may include:

4. Gathering Information 

Parents, family members, and educators provide invaluable insights. Their observations and reports help create a clearer picture of the child’s behavior across different settings.

5. Rating Scales and Questionnaires 

Structured tools, like rating scales, offer a quantitative measure of ADHD symptoms and their severity.

6. Brain Wave Measurements 

While not commonly used, certain situations might require evaluations like an EEG to rule out other conditions.

7. Referral to a Specialist 

A pediatric neurologist or child psychologist might be roped in for a more specialized assessment of complex cases.

Challenges of Diagnosing Younger Children

Diagnosing ADHD in very young children comes with its own set of challenges. Symptoms might overlap with typical developmental behaviors, making it a delicate process. But in general, more severe ADHD cases are typically diagnosed earlier. To put it in perspective:

The involvement of parents, caregivers, and teachers becomes crucial in these formative years, distinguishing typical behaviors from potential ADHD symptoms.

Diagnosing ADHD in Adults

ADHD doesn’t just fade away with childhood. Many adults carry its symptoms, often without realizing its roots. The adult ADHD evaluation usually includes these processes:

Tracing Back to Childhood Symptoms

According to statistics, less than 20% of adults with ADHD have been diagnosed and treated. These individuals also have a higher prevalence of other mood disorders than non-ADHD individuals. As a result, the first step in ADHD diagnosis for adults is usually identifying any childhood symptoms that may have persisted into adulthood.

The process involves reviewing the individual’s medical records and self-reported symptoms or seeking input from family members. For example, showing excessive fidgets and squirms, other hyperactive-impulsive behavior, or exhibiting any learning disabilities may all be signs. A clinician may also conduct interviews to understand better the individual’s symptoms, behavior, and medical history.

Assessment Scales and Tools for Testing Adult ADHD

Similar to a child’s ADHD assessment, adults are also evaluated using a combination of tests and scales. The options for assessment tools depend on your doctor’s choice and the individual’s unique condition. Some of the standard assessment tools used include:

Additional assessments may be conducted to rule out other potential causes for the symptoms, including further laboratory tests and physical exams.

Role of Professionals in ADHD Diagnosis 

In most scenarios, your first contact to diagnose your ADHD is often your primary healthcare physician or your child’s pediatrician. These medical professionals will assess the symptoms and discuss the possibility of ADHD with you. They may also refer you to a specialist for further evaluation.

Psychiatrists and Psychologists

ADHD diagnosis involves the crucial role of psychiatrists and psychologists. They conduct comprehensive evaluations using clinical interviews and standardized ADHD assessment tools.

Their goal is to diagnose ADHD and possible co-existing mental health conditions, ensuring a holistic approach is used to manage the symptoms. They are also responsible for prescribing ADHD medication to treat ADHD symptoms and other common comorbid disorders, such as anxiety, OCD, and depression.

Educational and School Psychologists

School professionals play a vital role in ADHD diagnosis because they understand the challenges faced by children with ADHD. They observe behavior, academic performances, and the child’s social functioning in a school environment. According to CHADD and the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), ADHD children tend to daydream frequently, talk excessively, and dislike schoolwork or any activities that require concentration.

The psychoeducational evaluations provide insight into how ADHD affects learning. The collaboration between teachers and parents allows a well-rounded strategy for both classroom and home settings, ensuring the children excel in academics and personal growth.

Neurologists and Neuropsychologists

These specialists play a crucial role in understanding the brain-behavior connection. By using neurological assessments, they can determine if there are any underlying neurological issues. Also, they supervise and monitor medication management to ensure the best treatment approach for each individual.


Accurate diagnosis plays a pivotal role in understanding ADHD and setting an individual on the right path toward support and treatment. As a result, it’s beneficial to seek out the help of professional clinicians who understand ADHD and can provide guidance to better mental health.

However, only some have the benefit of living close to a professional. Grow Therapy is an online platform that connects you to licensed mental health professionals to bridge this gap. Through our platform, you can find a therapist best suited for their ADHD needs and get the help they need to achieve better mental well-being.


  • ADHD can be diagnosed as early as preschool age. Children with severe cases of ADHD may begin showing symptoms earlier than others. However, it's crucial to approach diagnosis with care at very young ages, as some symptoms can be mistaken for typical toddler behavior. It's always best to consult with pediatric specialists who can diagnose clearly and accurately.

  • While being aware of symptoms and personal experiences is essential, self-diagnosis isn't recommended. ADHD shares characteristics with other conditions, and a thorough evaluation by a professional is crucial to ensure the correct diagnosis. If you suspect you have ADHD, it's best to consult a healthcare provider or specialist in the field for an accurate assessment.

  • The duration of the ADHD diagnostic process can vary based on the individual and the thoroughness of the evaluation. It often involves multiple sessions of interviews, observations, and sometimes tests that can span a few weeks. However, a diagnosis might be made more swiftly in some straightforward cases. Being patient and cooperating with professionals is essential to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

  • Yes. While there are shared assessment tools and strategies, there are also distinct methods catered to children and adults. For children, evaluations involve more direct observations in settings like school or home, and input from teachers and parents is invaluable. Adults, on the other hand, may undergo more in-depth personal interviews and might be asked about their childhood symptoms or behaviors. Assessments can also consider adult-specific challenges, such as workplace issues or relationship dynamics.

About the author
therapist william snyder William Snyder, LPC

William Snyder is a licensed professional counselor who works with adults experiencing symptoms such as anxiety, depressed mood, loss and grief, identity and self-concept difficulties, relationship problems, life-transition difficulties, and traumatic memories.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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