Does My Child Have ADHD? What Can I Do To Find Out?

A common question some parents ask when their child or adolescent is having difficulty with school work is “does my child have ADHD?”. What first may appear as a simple question really can be a complex, diagnostic one. There are three “sub types” of ADHD-primarily inattentive; hyperactive-impulsive and combined.

Difficulty with attention and focus can be a problem because of many possible reasons, including but not limited to ADHD. In addition to ADHD, these can include: anxiety, depression, being preoccupied with worries, perfectionism, among other symptoms or problems.

Difficulty with hyperactivity-impulsivity can be a problem because of many possible reasons, including but not limited to ADHD. In addition to ADHD, these can include: anxiety, difficulty with “putting the brakes on” and thinking before acting, among other symptoms or problems.

How can a psychologist help with understanding if someone has ADHD and/or are the symptoms and behaviors due to something else? Part of understanding the puzzle is getting a good developmental history which includes information, such as was there ever head trauma; history of school performance and social/peer relationships; health/medical history; and any medications being taken. Teacher and parent symptom and behavior rating scales also provide additional useful information.

The psychologist will then discuss the tests and measures that they recommend based on all the information and ratings. This can include a computer administered measure such as the Conner’s Continuous Performance Test (measures attention, sustained focus, impulsivity); the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (measures attention, working memory, processing speed, verbal comprehension skills; among others); the Children’s Auditory and Verbal Learning Test (measures auditory memory and learning); and other tests depending upon what is being assessed. If there is a possible learning disorder, tests such as the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test may be used. Some of the subtests include ones that help measure word decoding and word reading; reading comprehension; written expression, arithmetic, and other skills areas.

If emotional testing can clarify the diagnostic picture, there are measures that help assess self-esteem, for symptoms such as depression, anxiety, perfectionism, excessive worry, obsessive-compulsive traits, and developing personality traits that may not be helpful, such as obsessive and overly-dependent traits.

After the testing is conducted and analyzed, the psychologist will meet with the child or adolescent and their parent/s to make recommendations based on the findings. These can include therapy, parent coaching, skills training, strategies for enhancing learning, and recommendations to consult with a pediatrician or psychiatrist to discuss possible use of medication, and referral to other health care specialists such as an occupational therapist or a speech and language therapist.

The report with the testing results may be shared with the school, if that makes sense to request accommodations, such as additional time for projects and tests, or to have certain behaviors understood to be related to problems, rather than the child or adolescent acting out or attempting to cause difficulty. An example of this is when anxiety results in an immediate need to leave a situation.

If your child or adolescent has difficulty with attention and focus, learning, social skills, or seems to worry, be sad, or have any other symptoms or problems that concern you, having an evaluation by a mental health professional should be considered. Focus Forward Counseling and Consulting is staffed with psychologists, clinical social workers, and counselors. If the assessment should include testing, a psychologist would administer the tests and measures.