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Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental condition that causes increased hyperactivity and impulsive behaviors. ADHD is a common condition that makes it hard for someone to focus, sit still, and think before acting. This condition is one of the most common disorders that affect children and is found more commonly in boys than in girls. Though previously most experts believed that only children have ADHD, adults can also be diagnosed with it. ADHD is not a condition that a child can grow out of, though symptoms may lessen over time. 

There is no single test to determine whether or not someone has ADHD. Other mental conditions like anxiety disorders or learning disabilities have similar symptoms and traits. To diagnose ADHD, healthcare providers may run tests that will help determine whether or not other underlying conditions exist that may better explain the symptoms. In any case, a healthcare provider or mental health professional provides a diagnostic evaluation by gathering information from multiple sources. ADHD can’t be diagnosed in one office visit since all the symptoms may manifest differently in different situations.

How is ADHD diagnosed?

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To properly diagnose someone with ADHD, physicians and mental health professionals use guidelines provided by the American Psychiatric Association in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). These guidelines are widely utilized in clinical practice and research and contain the parameters for ADHD diagnosis for children and adults. 

In DSM-5 the three different types of ADHD are defined as inattentiveness, hyperactive/impulsive, or a combination of the two. The symptoms below can indicate that an individual has ADHD.  

1. Inattentiveness

  • Fails to pay close attention to detail and makes careless mistakes
  • Experiences difficulty paying attention 
  • Does not appear to listen well to instructions or follow through with them
  • Often gets easily distracted
  • Avoids participating in activities that require mental effort over a long period of time, like homework or schoolwork
  • Often loses items that are necessary for tasks and activities (e.g school materials, pencils, erasers, books, keys). 
  • Can start a task like chores or school work but easily loses focus, thus leaving the task unfinished
  • Has difficulty with organization

2. Hyperactivity/Impulsivity

  • Inability to stay still or remain in one position for extended periods of time
  • Fidgets by tapping hands or feet or bouncing
  • Easily feels restless and runs around or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate
  • Talks loudly and excessively 
  • Has trouble waiting for their turn and blurts out answers before the question is asked
  • Often interrupts other activities or is disruptive to others 
  • Experiences an inability to do leisure activities quietly 
  • Leaves the seat often in situations where seating is expected

3. Combination of Inattentiveness and Hyperactivity/Impulsivity

  • Experiences a combination of traits from both inattentiveness and hyperactivity/impulsivity

These three presentations of ADHD can indicate an individual having this condition, but someone can still meet the criteria to be diagnosed with ADHD even without any symptoms of inattentiveness or hyperactivity/impulsivity. The clinician must still observe the number and severity of symptoms, the duration of symptoms, and the degree to which these symptoms are disruptive or harmful to the person’s daily life. If the significant impairment hasn’t taken place because of these traits, the individual may not be eligible to be diagnosed with ADHD. 

Impairment could range from things like getting fired from a job because of their symptoms, experiencing excessive conflict in a marriage, or failing in school due to bad grades or bad attendance.  

ADHD Diagnosis for Children

To diagnose ADHD in someone who is 16 or younger, 6 or more symptoms of inattentiveness or hyperactivity/impulsivity must be present. Additionally, several inattentive or hyperactive symptoms must have been present before the individual was 12 years old. These symptoms must also be present in more than two settings, such as experiencing these symptoms at school and in the home. There should be clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with or reduce the quality of experience for the child in school or social functioning, and the symptoms should not be able to be explained by any other mental disorder. 

ADHD Diagnosis for Adults

ADHD can last into adulthood and is diagnosed in adults who experienced these symptoms as children as well. To diagnose ADHD in an individual who is 17 years or older, only 5 symptoms need to be presented in their life rather than the 6 needed to diagnose children. Many adults may not realize they have ADHD because the symptoms may be perceived differently in adulthood, like anxiety or struggling in relationships and work. 

As a part of the set guidelines for ADHD diagnosis, the physician will ask about these present symptoms, but one cannot be diagnosed for ADHD unless the symptoms have not been present since childhood. There also must be proof that symptoms have had a significant negative effect on important aspects of their life, like relationships, work, or school. 

How to get diagnosed with ADHD

Scheduling an appointment with a healthcare provider is the first step in looking into a diagnosis for ADHD or receiving ADHD treatment. At The Phoenix Recovery Center, we have highly-trusted providers and mental health professionals who you can trust on your journey of self-discovery and care. Call us today so that we can support your needs and develop an individualized treatment plan just for you.

The Phoenix Recovery Center
489 W. South Jordan Pkwy
Suite 400
South Jordan, UT