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Looking for ADHD Symptoms in Multiple Settings

Unlike your keys, you won’t forget to take your ADHD with you when you leave the house. ADHD is something that stays with you wherever you go, even if it expresses itself differently in different environments.

MultipleIn fact, this idea is baked into the definition of ADHD. According to the DSM, the diagnostic manual commonly used to diagnose ADHD, symptoms of ADHD have to be present in multiple settings for a diagnosis to be made.

For example, it’s not enough to have ADHD symptoms only at work but not in any other parts of your life. It needs to be work and home, or school and social situations, or some other combination of multiple areas of your life. And there’s a good chance that symptoms of ADHD will be evident in every aspect of your life.

Looking at whether symptoms cut across multiple areas of people’s lives is helpful in the diagnostic process for untangling ADHD from other problems.

When the person being diagnosed is a child, a good way of doing this is asking people who know the child from different settings to report on whether they’ve observed symptoms of ADHD. These might include both parents and teachers, for example. If the parents and teachers agree that they’ve noticed behaviors consistent with ADHD in the child, this suggests that the symptoms are present across multiple settings – in this case, home and school.

When it’s an adult is being diagnosed, they might not be so eager to, say, haul their supervisor in to their mental health evaluation. Of course, to some extent it’s possible to get third-party reports on the person’s behavior in different settings by asking family, friends, partners, and so on, which can be helpful.

But the nice thing about adults is that they are, at least in theory, more self-aware than children. Often they have some sense of whether problems like inattention and impulsivity are sowing chaos in different aspects of their lives.

Granted, they aren’t perfectly self-aware – adults with ADHD frequently underestimate the extent to which their symptoms are interfering in their lives. But generally, adults with ADHD are in a good position to have a productive conversation with their doctor about whether they’ve noticed the same symptoms causing issues for them in multiple settings like home, work and relationships.

One hallmark of a doctor who knows what they’re doing when diagnosing ADHD is that they make an effort to get information about how ADHD symptoms are cropping up in multiple parts of people’s everyday lives. It’s usually a good sign if your doctor is trying to learn about how your symptoms show up in various parts of a your life, whether that’s by bringing people familiar with your behavior into the process or having an in-depth discussion with you about how your symptoms appear in multiple situations, like at work and at home.

It’s worth keeping in mind that how exactly this information gets brought into the diagnostic process will vary based on the your individual doctor, and what resources are available. And just because ADHD symptoms show up in multiple parts of your life doesn’t mean they’ll look exactly the same in different situations – you might notice that they express themselves differently in different contexts. Generally, though, ADHD symptoms do show up in some form in multiple parts of people’s lives, and part of making a diagnosis is tracking down the ways they do so.

Image: Flickr/yooperann

Looking for ADHD Symptoms in Multiple Settings

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2018). Looking for ADHD Symptoms in Multiple Settings. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 27, 2019, from


Last updated: 12 Sep 2018
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