A character with pink hair and a puzzled expression talks to a doctor holding a clipboard, under the large header "ADHD Diagnosis Process," highlighting a step in understanding ADHD.

A Step-by-Step Guide to the ADHD Diagnosis Process

The ADHD diagnosis process involves several key steps: recognizing ADHD symptoms, consulting with a healthcare provider, undergoing a comprehensive evaluation by a specialist, reviewing symptoms to ensure they meet specific criteria, ruling out other conditions, and finally, receiving a diagnosis. This process is designed to accurately identify ADHD and differentiate it from other conditions with similar symptoms, ensuring appropriate treatment and support.

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Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach

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A word form our expert

If you're reading this, you might be starting to think you might have ADHD. It could be that loved ones have pointed out some issues with focus, or maybe you've found some of my Instagram posts hitting close to home. Perhaps your school or university has recommended an ADHD evaluation, or maybe you've had a lingering feeling over the years that something just doesn't add up. 🤔

Whatever has led you here, you likely already know that getting a proper ADHD diagnosis isn't a walk in the park. It's a long, intricate journey that can feel daunting, especially with all the medical terms, forms, and evaluations you'll encounter. Just thinking about what needs to be done can be too much, especially if you're going through it solo. The irony? The symptoms that make you suspect ADHD can also make the process feel too overwhelming, preventing you from getting the support you deserve. 💕

I totally get it, which is why I founded The Mini ADHD Coach. My goal is to make sure that you and I, and everyone else on this complex journey toward diagnosis, know we're not alone. Let's face it: few people talk about the nitty-gritty of getting diagnosed, and I wanted to change that. 🌟

In this article, I'll guide you through each stage of getting an ADHD diagnosis as an adult. We'll start by identifying some of the ADHD symptoms affecting your daily life, then move on to what you can expect before and during your evaluation. Finally, we'll explore what the next steps after a diagnosis are. Whether you're just starting to suspect ADHD or already in the diagnostic process, this article has you covered. 💪

Stage 1: Suspecting Symptoms of ADHD

So, you've started to notice something's not quite right. 🧐

You might find yourself quickly overwhelmed, often underestimating how long it takes to complete tasks or get places, making you chronically late. Maybe you frequently misplace your keys, phone, or important documents. Emotional regulation could be a struggle, with sudden mood swings or difficulty calming down after getting upset. You might even hyperfocus on tasks that interest you to the point of forgetting about everything else. Sound familiar? 😉

Before I got diagnosed with adult ADHD, I often felt like I was ‘lazy’ or unmotivated. 😞I’d have conflicts with loved ones who got frustrated with my forgetfulness or my tendency to always be late. I felt out of control and misunderstood, leading me to have even more difficulty sustaining attention and ultimately procrastinating. 

Two characters, one labeled "diagnosed with ADHD" looking concerned, and the other "waiting for a diagnosis" looking downcast, with the caption questioning "is it ADHD or laziness?"

The impacts on my work, strained relationships, and low self-esteem finally pushed me to look into a diagnosis. I realized I couldn't keep going like this and needed to make a change.

Stage 2: Initial Consultation

By this stage, you've likely started to connect the dots and suspect that ADHD might be affecting your life. The next step? An initial consultation with a healthcare provider. 🩺 Depending on where you live, this could be with a general practitioner, a primary care doctor, or a licensed mental health professional like a psychiatrist or psychologist.

During this first meeting, you'll go through an initial screening evaluation. This is where the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) comes into play. Your healthcare provider will use the diagnostic criteria outlined in the DSM-5 to see if you exhibit the number and type of symptoms that could indicate ADHD. 

A patient speaking with a health professional, with a caption explaining that an ADHD diagnosis is based on whether the patient's symptoms align with ADHD characteristics.

For instance, they'll check if you meet the ‘six or more symptoms’ rule, which outlines key traits that significantly impact your daily life. This could range from making careless mistakes at work to having difficulty waiting your turn in conversations.

If you're an adult, you might discuss how symptoms affect your ability to pay bills or how they interfere with your work performance. If you're a parent, the focus might shift to how your child's symptoms present in an academic setting based on feedback from your child's teacher. Family history might also be discussed, as research suggests that ADHD often runs in families.

It's crucial to note that only specially trained healthcare providers can diagnose ADHD. So, if you meet the criteria during this initial consultation, you'll be recommended for a comprehensive ADHD evaluation. ⬇️

Stage 3: The ADHD Evaluation

Before you even step into the evaluation room, you might feel mixed emotions. Feeling overwhelmed by the thought of undergoing a comprehensive evaluation is normal. But you know what? Many people also find this stage validating. When I went through it, things just started to click. It was like a light bulb moment where the struggles I'd been facing started to make sense. 💡

A health professional is shown consulting the DSM5, indicating it's used as a tool to see if a patient's symptoms match the diagnostic criteria for ADHD.

Understanding the process of the evaluation before you go into it can make the whole thing feel less daunting, so let's dive into what you can expect. 👇

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Before the Assessment

Before your evaluation appointment, you'll want to gather some information. This could include academic or work history, co-occurring concerns like mood disorders or sleep disorders, and a general outline of your daily life. If you're an adult, you will be asked to fill out a self-report scale about your symptoms and overall functioning. You might also be asked to have a partner, friend, or one of your family members to fill out a separate 'adult observer' form that explores your symptoms from their perspective. ✍🏽

During the Assessment

The comprehensive evaluation for ADHD is quite thorough. Conducted by health professionals, it involves in-depth interviews with the individual and sometimes those who know them well. 

The person assessing you might begin with a bio-psycho-social assessment. This will cover everything from prenatal and early developmental history to your current functioning. They'll ask about your childhood, including any violence, disruption, or separation incidents, and any history of family ADHD or co-occurring disorders. 

Some of these topics might feel difficult to discuss. If a question makes you uneasy, it's okay to speak up. Your psychiatrist is there to help diagnose ADHD, not push you into sharing anything you're uncomfortable with. 💕

The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) will guide the diagnostic criteria. You'll discuss specific symptoms when they're present and how they interfere with routine and age-appropriate functioning. 📘

After the Assessment

Once all the interviews, tests, and observations are complete,  the clinician might schedule a follow-up appointment, or simply send you a full report based on your appointment, completed rating scales, school records, and relevant medical records. The goal is to finalize the assessment process and share the findings, including whether you've been diagnosed with ADHD or not. 💌

From here, a joint treatment plan will be developed. This could involve referrals for additional assessments, like a medical screening to rule out medical conditions that might present as ADHD or a psychiatric evaluation for co-occurring disorders. If you receive a diagnosis, the assessor will discuss any potential treatment. 💊

The illustration contains the text "did you know that people with ADHD often have co-occurring disorders?" highlighting the complexity of ADHD with associated conditions.

Stage 4: Treatment

Getting diagnosed with ADHD is a significant milestone, but it's just the beginning of your journey to better manage the symptoms affecting your daily life.

Here are a few of the treatment options you might be offered. ⬇️


You might have discussed medication options with your healthcare provider during your assessment. If you both agree it's a good route for you, you'll likely start on medication. But don't worry if there's a gap between your diagnosis and starting medication; it’s quite normal for it to take a while before a prescription can be reviewed and signed off with the relevant professionals. Many find this time useful for reflection and research about ADHD and their options. 🔎

Although stimulant medication is often the first line of defense, it's not the only option; there are non-stimulant options, too. Your healthcare provider will guide you through the pros and cons to find what's best for you. ✅


While many adults diagnosed with ADHD choose medication as their go-to treatment, many also explore behavioral therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Research points to positive results with a combination of both medication and CBT, however some people prefer to try therapeutic approaches before medication. 

Other types of therapy (such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) can help build coping mechanisms to manage symptoms like emotional dysregulation or impulsivity. Finally, counseling can be a safe space to process the emotional weight of receiving an ADHD diagnosis. 🥰

For some, including myself, this stage can be pretty emotional. 😢It was like a floodgate opened, revealing how many feelings I'd been bottling up after years of thinking there was something inherently 'wrong' with me as a person. Therapy was invaluable in helping me navigate these complex emotions. 

There’s also ADHD coaching, which offers practical, hands-on strategies to manage your day-to-day symptoms. 

Lifestyle Changes

Eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and prioritizing good-quality sleep can do wonders for managing symptoms. Some folks even swear by certain supplements, while others find relief through mindfulness and meditation. 🧘

It's worth noting that for some people, these lifestyle changes work best in addition to medication, not as a replacement. This depends on your unique set of symptoms or any comorbid conditions you might have. 

If you're dealing with other health issues alongside ADHD, these natural approaches might not be a one-stop solution. Always consult your healthcare provider to tailor a treatment plan that's just right for you. 

Depicts the consequences of living with undiagnosed ADHD, including anxiety, suicidal thoughts, substance use for self-soothing, and relationship problems.

The Benefits Of  A Diagnosis

The benefits of an ADHD diagnosis go beyond just medical treatment. For students, a formal diagnosis can lead to academic accommodations, like extended test-taking time and deadline extensions. 😌

Working adults can also benefit from workplace adjustments, such as a quieter workspace or more flexible working arrangements. These changes can make daily tasks less daunting and more manageable, which has an overall positive effect on the rest of our lives. 👍

A reassuring message stating "that’s why it’s never too late to understand yourself better," with a character in a meditative pose, signifying self-acceptance and the importance of self-awareness.

What's Next?

Monitoring your progress is key. Regular check-ups with a trusted health professional are essential for tracking how well your treatment is working. These visits are your chance to discuss any side effects, tweak your medication, or explore other treatment options. Your healthcare provider will likely use rating scales to measure the severity and frequency of your symptoms, ensuring your treatment plan is as effective as possible. ✅

Many people find support in community - whether it's an online forum, a local support group, or even a circle of friends who get what you're going through, being part of a community can offer invaluable emotional support and practical advice. You can share your own experiences, learn from others, and even get recommendations for ADHD-friendly tools and hacks. 

Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to managing ADHD. The more you know, the better equipped you'll be to navigate the complexities of symptoms, treatments, and daily challenges. Many resources - from scientific articles and books to podcasts and YouTube channels - can offer insights into your condition. 🤓

Finally, don't forget to stay updated on the latest research; ADHD is a constantly evolving field. The more you know, the more proactive you can be in your treatment and lifestyle choices.


If you've made it to the end of this guide, chances are you're seriously contemplating starting the diagnostic process for ADHD, or maybe you're already navigating it. Either way, kudos to you for taking the time to educate yourself - knowledge is power, especially when diagnosing ADHD and understanding its symptoms. 

This journey can stir up many emotions - curiosity, hope, anxiety, and relief. 🤗It's a big step, but it's also the first step toward a life where you can manage your symptoms more effectively if they're causing a significant impairment in your work, relationships, or daily tasks.

The diagnostic process, led by healthcare professionals like clinical psychologists or adult psychiatrists, is complex but can be incredibly validating. It's a path to understanding yourself better and opens doors to various treatment options, from medication to behavioral therapies and lifestyle changes. 

It's a chance to unlock your full potential by embracing your neurodiversity and the unique advantages it offers. Once you learn how to make it work for you instead of against you, the sky's the limit. 🚀

So, if you're on the fence about starting your ADHD diagnostic journey, consider this your sign to take that first step. Consult with a specialist to discuss your symptoms and concerns - they can guide you through the initial consultation, comprehensive evaluations, and, eventually, a treatment plan tailored just for you. 💪

You're not just taking this journey for yourself but for all the people who love you and for the life you want to lead. So go ahead and take that first step - your future self will thank you for it. 💕

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the process of getting diagnosed for ADHD?

Diagnosing ADHD in adults starts with recognizing how much symptoms interfere with your daily life and behavior. During an initial consultation with a healthcare provider or a specialized mental health professional,you’ll be asked about any ADHD symptoms, family health history, and any other factors that could be relevant for a diagnosis of ADHD. If you meet the criteria, you’ll usually be referred for a thorough evaluation by an adult psychiatrist. During the ADHD test or evaluation, you'll undergo a series of rating scales and symptom checklists. Rating scales are often used to measure the severity and frequency of symptoms, which must be present in two or more settings. A physical exam is also usually recommended to rule out other conditions that might mimic ADHD symptoms, like seizure disorders. If learning disabilities or anxiety disorder are suspected, additional tests may be conducted.

How long is the ADHD diagnosis process?

The length of the ADHD diagnosis process can vary depending on several factors, including the healthcare providers involved and whether other conditions like mood disorder or anxiety disorder need to be ruled out. Generally, the process involves an initial consultation, followed by a more in-depth evaluation process that includes psychological tests, symptom checklists, and possibly a physical exam. If symptoms are present in multiple settings and significantly interfere with daily life, a diagnosis may be made more quickly. However, for a more accurate diagnosis, healthcare providers often take the time to rule out other potential issues, which can extend the timeline.

What other conditions can cause ADHD symptoms?

ADHD symptoms can overlap with other mental health conditions, making a comprehensive medical exam crucial for an accurate ADHD diagnosis. For example, anxiety disorders can share similar symptoms to ADHD - particularly the ADHD combined presentation - such as being easily distracted or difficulty with sustained mental effort. Some symptoms of ADHD can also be misdiagnosed as a learning disability, depression or mood disorder, which means some people can go years without being accurately diagnosed. This is why healthcare professionals like clinical psychologists and adult psychiatrists often conduct thorough evaluations, as the American Psychiatric Association recommends, to rule out other conditions when diagnosing ADHD. When conditions that share symptoms of ADHD are appropriately addressed, it is easier to manage and treat ADHD as a whole.

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