There is not a single test to diagnose ADHD. To diagnose the disorder, a mental health professional has to combine data from multiple sources.
The ADHD evaluation process involves a discussion of current & past symptoms, family history, childhood difficulties, and possible comorbid medical conditions.
You can diagnose ADHD by using screening tests such as the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale Symptom Checklist, the Wender Utah Rating Scale, and the Conners Adult ADHD Rating Scales.
Familiarizing yourself with the evaluation process is important as it allows you to prepare all the necessary information and ensures the most accurate outcome. 😊
We know how daunting reading articles from start to finish can be, especially when you have ADHD, so we added this clickable Table of Contents to easily navigate our articles 😉 :
While ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a condition typically diagnosed in children. Back in the days, it was believed that it didn't require much professional attention and would eventually be outgrown.
To this day there are many mental health conditions that do not receive enough medical attention. Our society is quick to label different behaviors & traits as "stupid" or "lazy" when they are in fact just the result of brains differences. 😟
An undiagnosed child with ADHD can turn into an adult who struggles to adapt and experiences difficulties that impair everyday functioning.
That being said there a few reasons why receiving an ADHD diagnosis in adulthood might be challenging.
Firstly, ADHD always shows signs in childhood so any medical in-depth evaluation will rely on evidence that the disorder has always been there.
Secondly, despite the recognition of ADHD’s chronic nature, there are not many mental health professionals trained in diagnosing it in adults.
It was only in 2013 when symptom manifestations in adults were included in the new DSM-5 edition. 😦
Thirdly, ADHD -especially undiagnosed into adulthood- is often comorbid with other mental health disorders. Overlapping symptoms makes ADHD harder to diagnose for adults.
To be diagnosed with ADHD you need a licensed healthcare professional to determine whether your symptoms fit in within the three subtypes of ADHD, the predominantly hyperactive impulsive, the predominantly inattentive or the combined type.
The official ADHD diagnosis requires 5 or more symptoms (out of 9) from the Inattentive or the Hyperactive-Impulsive Type of ADHD:
--> Click here to learn about the 9 Official Symptoms of the Inattentive Type of ADHD.
--> Click here to learn about the 9 Official Symptoms of the Hyperactive-Impulsive Type of ADHD.
If you have 5 or more of both then you have the Combined Type of ADHD.
Because of the subjectivity involved with the ADHD Diagnosis, especially for adults considering a lot of it relies on old memories, it is very important to be prepared and thorough in your approach.
This is why we created the "Could it be ADHD Workbook", to assess which of the 25 main ADHD symptoms & traits you have.
We designed this tool to not only help decide whether you should pursue a diagnosis or not, but most importantly ensure that if you do get an official diagnosis that it is correct.
We are writing as much as we are on ADHD because we sincerely believe that knowledge is what is missing for people struggling with ADHD. That being said it the amount of things to know can be daunting, especially for most people that have ADHD. 😅
So if you are not ready for the full experience of the Workbook, nor the detailed explanation of the 18 Official ADHD Symptoms. Here is a quick recap:
What does Inattention mean for people with ADHD?
The symptoms of inattention refer to the inability to focus on a task that one finds boring or unfulfilling and involve being easily distracted
--> Do you ever find yourself forced to sip on a drink or snack, or play with a pen to stay focused when engaging in a boring activity?
These are signs of the Inattentive Type of ADHD.
What does hyperactivity mean for people with ADHD?
The symptoms of hyperactivity refer to excessive activity, in adults it tends to manifest itself as restlessness.
--> Do you struggle to rest, experience racing thoughts and feel the need to multitask? You might talk excessively and feel the need to be always on the go. You might struggle to remain seated and feel the need to walk around.
These are signs of hyperactivity as described for the hyperactive impulsive type of ADHD in the DSM-5.
What does Impulsivity mean for people with ADHD?
The trait of impulsivity refers to acting on impulse, like impulse buying and saying things without thinking like blurting out answers.
-->Do you find it difficult to control your emotions? Do you experience mood swings?
These are signs of impulsivity as described for the hyperactive impulsive type of ADHD in the DSM-5.
The first step to receive a diagnosis is to get seen by a specialist: a psychiatrist, pediatrician or any qualified healthcare professional who is skilled in diagnosing ADHD.
Diagnosing ADHD in adults is a complex, multilayered process that involves different types of evaluation. Each part of the evaluation is necessary and cannot stand on its own.
Unfortunately, most professionals have either experience working with adults or children.
A GP should refer you to an appropriate professional but it might be necessary to see someone privately to ensure the most throughout the assessment. 😕
Even if you are convinced you meet the criteria and experience problems, it is strongly recommended to think of as many examples as you can and how they translate into your everyday difficulties.
Don't know where to start? We have a step-by-step process laid out in our "Could it be ADHD Workbook", specifically designed for that purpose and recommended by Licensed Psychologists.
You need to think of how each symptom manifests itself and disrupts your daily functioning. Also think about when it started, and how it evolved. As we grow up we change and ADHD traits can still be there just manifesting themselves in a different way or you just know yourself so well that you've adapted to mask or compensate for your ADHD tendencies.
This will enable the medical professional to determine if they have to move forward with the evaluation.
Why is describing ADHD symptoms not enough to get a Diagnosis?
For most people, ADHD can be characterized as an Invisible Illness that can’t be recognized just by looking at someone with ADHD.
The current ADHD diagnosis process relies on subjectivity and the problem is that ADHD symptoms are tied to specific situations & circumstances.
What that means is that it is impossible for health professionals to reliably observe the symptoms themselves. Some symptoms could be "faked" in front of the doctor.
Additionally, what could be perceived as symptoms of ADHD might be manifestations of other health issues.
All of that means that Health Professionals can't just diagnose anyone that is coming to them saying they have the official symptoms of ADHD we listed here. They need more data so they can make an informed decision.
This is why the more examples, and the more details you provide, the more likely you are to have the correct diagnosis for what you have.
One of the reasons diagnosing ADHD in adults is so challenging is that it requires providing information from years ago. Since ADHD begins in childhood there has to be evidence of symptoms before the age of 12 for an accurate diagnosis.
While it might be impossible to remember a detailed history of our symptoms and behaviors as a child, it can be helpful to turn to other people for help.
Ask for the help of people who knew you when you were a child, such as a family member or a childhood friend. They can answer questions to help determine when symptoms first started.
It might be worth reaching out to a teacher who remembers you from your teenage years and is willing to offer their personal opinion. They can help you gain access to your school records which might provide invaluable information. For example, you might have needed extra time to complete tests.
A professional might ask your parents to provide a developmental history that can hint at social, emotional, and developmental difficulties. For example, your parents might remember you experienced problems with peers or struggled with attention.
Finally, you might be asked about your family history. Genes significantly contribute to developing the condition.
A mental health professional will ask questions relating to your medical history to rule out other conditions. You will have to provide a list of medications you're currently taking and might be referred for blood tests.
Understanding medical history is a crucial part of diagnostic assessment. If the symptoms began recently, they might indicate a change in overall health.
ADHD's symptoms can be mimicked by various other issues which include mental disorders and physical conditions.
ADHD is often misdiagnosed with depression and anxiety. Depression might cause problems with disorganization, difficulty sticking to a task, and decision-making problems, while the inability to concentrate and restlessness can be explained by anxiety. If you are feeling worried and unmotivated, it is difficult to focus and carry on with daily living. 😟
Sleeping problems can be often mistaken for ADHD. For example, disorders like sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome might disrupt sleep and impair everyday functioning which can produce some of the ADHD symptoms such as irritability and restlessness.
ADHD can be confused with a bipolar disorder characterized by episodes of mania. A person with bipolar might experience severely elevated mood, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviors. The main difference is, however, that bipolar includes periods of depression and mainly affects mood, while ADHD affects attention.
Substance abuse is another possibility medical professionals consider. Drugs or alcohol can cause memory and sleep problems, mood swings, impaired concentration, and chronic deficits in attention.
ADHD symptoms can also be similar to those caused by learning disabilities or medical conditions such as hearing problems, hyperthyroidism, and fetal alcohol syndrome.
It is important to have a complete picture of your medical history and the symptoms you feel before getting a diagnosis. 🙏
While there is not one ADHD test that can diagnose it, there are many tools used to gather additional information that allows the professional to decide if a more in-depth interview is needed.
These tools aid the steps mentioned above and help get a full picture of your situation.
The ASR Symptom Checklist is a commonly used questionnaire that includes 18 DSM-IV criteria. A patient is asked to mark how frequently they experience a symptom described by each question. The higher the score, the higher the likelihood you might have ADHD. Once the test is completed, a professional will ask you to talk about how these symptoms impede everyday functioning and then assess whether they were present in childhood as well.
WURS is another rating scale used to assess adults for symptoms of ADHD. It consists of 25 items that evaluate the frequency of symptoms present in both childhood and adulthood. The questionnaire also asks about medical conditions experienced as a child (bedwetting, allergies, stomach problems and headaches).
CAARS is an extensive 66-item rating scale that consists of one part filled in by a patient and the other part filled in by a family member or any other person who might contribute to symptom evaluation. The scale focuses on inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and problems with self-concept.
I was not satisfied with the current array of official tests and assessments for ADHD. While the ADHD Symptom Checklists and ADHD Rating Scales mentioned above are helpful, especially to help health professionals navigate that complex diagnosis.
I sincerely believe the ADHD community need and deserve a more human and empathic tool to understand ADHD and elicit correct diagnoses.
Since it did not exist, I created it myself! Available both in a .pdf version and a paperback version, it'll answer your burning ADHD questions and most importantly you'll be able to rely on it throughout your ADHD journey.
It is in no way meant to replace the role of the Healthcare System in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, its goal is to bridge the gap between uninformed, confused people that may be struggling with their symptoms and the sterile rigid medical community that has its own set of constraints.
ADHD is a complex disorder with a 4.4 % prevalence in adults. Since it is still misunderstood and might be comorbid with other disorders, it requires a complex evaluation for an accurate diagnosis.
If you are thinking of getting assessed for ADHD, it might help you gain closure and a better understanding of what you previously thought were shortcomings. On the other hand, it might trigger a sense of regret. However, it is never too late to learn about yourself and improve your quality of life. 😊
While there's no cure for ADHD, there are adjustments that can make the person's life significantly easier and help them reach their full potential. 💕
Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only. If you are experiencing symptoms of ADHD, it’s best to see a professional for a diagnosis.