Although there is no single medical, physical, or genetic test diagnosis of the individual development of children of preschool age ADHD, a diagnostic evaluation can be provided by a qualified mental health care professional or physician who gathers information from multiple sources. These sources include ADHD symptom checklists, standardized behavior rating scales, a detailed history of past and current functioning, and information obtained from family members or significant others who know the person well.
These established guidelines are widely used in research and clinical practice. During an evaluation, the clinician will try to determine the extent to which these symptoms currently apply to the adult and if they have been present in childhood. The DSM-5 lists three presentations of ADHD—Predominantly Inattentive, Hyperactive-Impulsive and Combined. The symptoms for each are adapted and summarized below.
The individual meets the criteria for both inattention and hyperactive-impulsive ADHD presentations. These symptoms can change over time, so adults may fit different presentations from when they were children. It is possible to meet diagnostic criteria for ADHD without any symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. Several of the symptoms must have been present prior to age 12. This generally requires corroboration by a parent or some other informant. It is important to note that the presence of significant impairment in at least two major settings of the person’s life is central to the diagnosis of ADHD. Impairment refers to how ADHD interferes with an individual’s life.
There are many Internet sites about ADHD that offer various types of questionnaires and lists of symptoms. Most of these questionnaires are not standardized or scientifically validated and should not be used to self-diagnose or to diagnose others with ADHD. A valid diagnosis can only be provided by a qualified, licensed professional. Who is qualified to diagnose ADHD? For adults, an ADHD diagnostic evaluation should be conducted by a licensed mental health professional or a physician.
Whichever type of professional is chosen, it is important to ask about their training and experience in working with adults with ADHD. Many times the professional’s level of knowledge and expertise about adult ADHD is more important for obtaining an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan than the type of professional degree. Qualified professionals are usually willing to provide information about their training and experience with adults with ADHD. How do I find a professional qualified to diagnose ADHD?