Testing for Adult ADHD

Learn More About Testing for Adult ADHD

Doctor talking to patient and relative
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Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is often thought of as a childhood condition that is “outgrown” by the teenage years. However, ADHD can span a lifetime. Symptoms that create problems for the individual can persist past adolescence and throughout adulthood.

While physical hyperactivity that is clearly visible may seem to decrease with age, other ADHD symptoms continue. Examples are inattention, and being distractible, restless, and impulsivity.

Problems with planning, self-regulation, disorganization and forgetfulness can also be present. If left untreated, these symptoms can cause difficulties in all areas of adult life, including work, relationships and hobbies. 

Should I Get Tested for ADHD Even Though I Am an Adult?

Some people wonder if they should get tested for ADHD once they become an adult. Here are five reasons why getting a formal diagnosis is helpful.

1. Being diagnosed with a condition means you can start treating it and getting relief from the symptoms. Treatment may include ADHD medication and learning ADHD-friendly life skills.

2. During the diagnosis process, other conditions that are also present might be identified. This means you can start treating the other conditions too.

3. Many people feel a huge sense of relief when they are diagnosed with ADHD. They feel less guilt and shame about being different from their peers.

Now they have a name for why they are the way they are.

4. If you are a student, you are eligible for accommodations that will help you get the grades you are capable of. For example, you may be able to have person in class with you to take notes for you, and be allowed to write your exams in a quiet room.

 

5. You could be eligible for accommodations at your place of work. These supports will help you in your job performance. Examples are having a workspace in a quiet area so there are fewer distractions, or a flexible time to start work (depending on the job).

How is ADHD diagnosed?

There is not a test, such as a blood test, to find out if you have ADHD. Instead, ADHD is diagnosed by a detailed evaluation done by a health professional. During the evaluation, this person will determine if you meet the criteria for ADHD outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This is the official diagnostic guide used in the United States.

The fifth edition of the DSM, released in May 2013, states ADHD can be diagnosed if an adult meets the following criteria:

The Symptoms of ADHD Have Been Present Since Childhood.

You may not have been diagnosed as a child, but there must be evidence that you had problems with attention and self-control before you were 12 years old. The only exception to this is if you have suffered from a brain injury or medical condition that resulted in ADHD symptoms.

The Symptoms Are Present in More Than One Setting.

Do you currently experience significant problems with inattentive and/or hyperactivity impulsive symptoms in two or more important settings? For example, at home and school, or home and work.

The Symptoms Affect Performance. 

The symptoms reduce the quality of your social, academic or job performance.

There Are Five or More Symptoms Present. 

The DSM identifies 18 symptoms. Nine are for inattention, and nine are for hyperactivity. After 17 years of age, if you have five of the nine symptoms listed, and they have been present for at least six months, then a diagnosis can be made.

Other Causes Have Been Ruled Out.

Sometimes ADHD-like symptoms are caused by another condition. Examples are bipolar disorder or a sleep disorder.  Before accurately diagnosing ADHD, the doctor or clinician needs to rule out all other possible causes that could account for the ADHD-like symptoms. 

Can I Take an Online Test?

ADHD cannot be diagnosed online. However, there are many ADHD quizzes and questionnaires available on the Internet that act as a helpful self-screening process. Taking a quiz can give you the confidence to reach out to a health professional for a formal diagnosis.

Who Can Diagnose Adult ADHD?

Typically psychiatrists, psychologists, neurologists and some family doctors can carry out evaluations. When you are making enquires, ask specifically if the person has experience diagnosing adult ADHD.

What Happens During The Evaluation Process?

Though it varies, a typical evaluation for adult ADHD may last about three hours. During the assessment, the doctor or clinician will interview you and possibly your partner or your parent. This clinical interview will include questions about your developmental, medical, school, work and social history. If you have any school reports or other documents from childhood, it can be helpful to bring those too.

Questionnaires, rating scales, intellectual screenings, and measures of sustained attention and distractibility all may be part of the evaluation. You also could be screened for learning disabilities.

Your medical history is important. If you have not had a medical exam recently, one might be recommended to rule out medical causes for your symptoms.

While psychological testing is not used as the sole basis for diagnosing ADHD, sometimes it may be recommended to support conclusions and provide a more comprehensive evaluation. 

What's Next?

After you have been diagnosed with adult ADHD, you may feel a flood of emotions. Excitement and happiness are common in the first 24 hours, because now you have a name for your struggles. After a few days, you might feel overwhelmed about what to do next. Do not feel rushed to make decisions about treatment.  Allow yourself a little time to process the new information first.

Source:

Russell A. Barkley, PhD. Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Handbook for Diagnosis and Treatment (Third Edition). The Guildford Press. New York. 2006.

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