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How ADHD Is Diagnosed


So many people think that ADHD is diagnosed through some type of brain scan, blood test, or DNA test. In reality, ADHD is diagnosed through a series of psychological evaluations.

Do you think you (or someone you know) might have ADHD? Wondering how the diagnosis process goes?

Here’s your chance to find out all the specifics!

Basic steps for receiving an ADHD diagnosis:

1. Visit your primary care physician

Discuss your symptoms (or your child’s symptoms) with your doctor. It might be helpful to keep a journal for a few weeks before you go to keep a record of how exactly the symptoms present, what types of activities make them worse, and whether or not a certain time of day increases them.

Try to be open to options if your doctor thinks your symptoms might be caused by something other than ADHD. However, if you feel misunderstood, it’s okay to seek a second opinion.

2. Referral to behavioral and/or occupational therapist

Your primary care physician will not diagnose you (or your child) with ADHD, but if they think you might have it, they will refer you to the professionals who can diagnose it.

A behavioral therapist is a trained professional who provides treatment that helps someone change potentially self-destructing behaviors.

An occupational therapist is a trained professional who uses assessment and treatment to develop, recover, or maintain the daily living and work skills of people with a physical, mental, or cognitive disorder.

While these professionals do not provide the final, official diagnosis of ADHD, they do work with individuals who have ADHD everyday and can give you a good idea of whether or not you have it (or your child does). They’re sort of the middle man to give you a basic diagnosis so that you can move on to a mental health psychologist.

They can also let you know what types of things you (or your child) specifically struggles with, as well as if you (or your child) might have any co-occurring disorders. After you spend several sessions with them, working through certain evaluations they’ll want to give you (or your child), they’ll send all of their ideas with you to the mental health psychologist.

Meeting with these professionals is very important, even if it doesn’t sound like it. Their wisdom is practical, necessary, and forward-propelling. Without it, your diagnosis might not be as accurate.

3. Evaluation from school psychologist

If you’re seeking an ADHD diagnosis for a school-aged child, your healthcare professionals will also advise you to have an evaluation done by the child’s school psychologist. Children act different at school, have different goals at school, and are expected to complete different tasks at school. They might not struggle with something at home, but at school, it might be a real obstacle for them.

Having them evaluated by a psychologist who works specifically with school-aged children, and who can follow them around school for a bit, can be really beneficial in helping the child in all aspects of life, not just home life.

Also, if the child is evaluated by a school psychologist, they can be placed into special learning programs if they need it. They can also be assigned a paraprofessional to help them throughout the day if necessary. With a diagnosis of ADHD only, this often isn’t necessary, but with co-occurring disorders (like Autism or Sensory Processing Disorder), sometimes it is.

4. Receive OFFICIAL diagnosis by a mental health psychologist

Many times, mental health psychologists work in mental health clinics. Depending on your area, they might be in a private office or a hospital, but they all perform the same function.

A mental health counselor provides ongoing psychological care to clients dealing with (in this case) psychological disorders/issues. This professional will meet with you once you’ve been referred to them, and they will provide you with an official diagnosis of ADHD (as long as they agree with the diagnoses the other professionals have made, and acknowledge your symptoms as accurate).

This “official” diagnosis will be what you use to claim the disorder on any necessary paperwork in the future.

Your mental health counselor can work with you to set up a plan for treating your disorder after diagnosis. They can refer you to specific behavioral/occupational therapists who will help you manage your physical symptoms. They can also work in coordination with your medical doctor to get you any medications you might need, or they can point you in the direction of a dietician who can help you make dietary changes to ease your symptoms.

Mental health counselors can provide you with a wealth of knowledge of your disorder. They can inform you, guide you, and encourage you.

The most important thing to know is that diagnosing ADHD takes a team effort by a lot of people. You have to be proactive and listen to your instincts when it comes to doctors/professionals listening to you.

If you suspect you (or your child) might have it … it’s time to talk to your medical doctor!

How ADHD Is Diagnosed

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2016). How ADHD Is Diagnosed. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Feb 2016
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