Unfortunately, there is not yet a quick, definitive test, such as a blood test, to be used in diagnosing ADHD. Diagnosing ADHD is a complex and usually time-consuming process, made even more complicated by the fact that 80 percent of the time ADHD is not the only diagnosis. In fact, 50 percent of the time there are two other diagnoses accompanying ADHD.
Professionals are guided by the criteria for ADHD spelled out in the DSM-V (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition). In order to determine if an individual meets those criteria, a qualified professional needs to gather information from schools, parents and other family members, athletic coaches, caregivers, etc. — people who have known the patient for a period of time. Sometimes standardized rating scales and other tests are used. There should be a thorough physical exam including vision and hearing screenings to rule out other conditions that can mimic ADHD. A complete medical history should also be taken.
Because of the likelihood of multiple diagnoses, the diagnostician needs to have some understanding of conditions such as anxiety, depression, learning difficulties, obsessive compulsion disorder, and others, to determine what constellation of factors is causing the unique challenges facing his or her patient.
It seems that there is art as well as science involved in diagnosing ADHD, and it doesn’t hurt for the doctor to have the intuition and curiosity of a good detective! If you know a good diagnostician, be sure to let others in your community know. That’s valuable information!