When to Fire Your Doctor: Ensuring the Best ADHD Diagnosis and Treatment

Rushes you through or brushes you off? Dr. Hallowell on when it's time to show your doctor the door.

Ensuring the Best ADHD Diagnosis and Treatment

If you ever wonder whether your child is receiving the right medical attention for her attention deficit disorder (ADHD), you are not alone.

Many practitioners and clinics don’t take the time to do a proper diagnostic work-up or to develop a proper treatment plan. By “proper,” I don’t just mean using the right medical tools and techniques. I mean establishing a personal connection with you and your child.

You need to be understood and listened to as you go through the arduous process of ADHD diagnosis and treatment. Too many mental-health professionals these days ignore the person in question while trying to nail down a plan for the patient. He or she is left bewildered.

Find a Connection

Your family's ADHD doctor should be more than a clinical encyclopedia. He should be able to share a joke or laugh at himself, and to want to get to know you. He should ask you about things that have nothing to do with what brought you to his office.

We psychiatrists boast that the profession is more evidence-based than in the past, and that our diagnostic criteria for attention deficit are based upon objective symptoms and behaviors, not subjective intuitions. But while the science has progressed, our implementation of it has grown impersonal.

Unfortunately, the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD lends itself to this mechanistic model. The diagnosis depends upon identifying six or more symptoms from one or two lists. To compound the problem, many people with ADHD want to cut to the chase, get their prescription, and leave.

So if your doctor says, “Whoa! Slow down!” that’s great! Another good sign is a doctor who asks you questions, talks with you or your child about day-to-day life, and sets up a treatment plan that includes several simultaneous approaches — medication combined with behavioral therapy, say.

A doctor should give you time to ask questions about medication, if it is recommended, and encourage you to call him if you notice side effects or other problems.

Show the Doc the Door

Should you fire your doctor if you aren’t getting this level of attention regarding your child's ADHD? Perhaps. If you can’t make a personal connection, move on. Your doctor should be your partner, not a godhead whom you worship.

Other red flags that indicate it’s time to shop around for another ADHD professional include:

>> She brushes off your concerns about severe side effects that your child is experiencing. Her goal should be to find a treatment that works without side effects, not to treat ADHD at any cost.

>> She doesn’t provide adequate information about potential side effects or specific ways to measure the effectiveness of a treatment.

>> She doesn’t offer additional options if the first is unsuccessful. Treating ADD often involves trial and error to find out what works.

>> She reprimands you or your child for asking too many questions.

>> She tells you she’s not an expert in ADHD.

Create a New Job Description

If you’ve given a pink slip to your current doctor, here’s how to go about finding a replacement. Look for a psychiatrist who has a specialty or sub-specialty in ADHD and learning differences.

Chadd.org and ADDA chapters will connect you with a network of ADHD families who can recommend local doctors and assess their bedside manner. An ADHD support group in your area is another valuable source of contacts, or browse online community forums, like ADDitude’s forums, to find locals with ADHD who can offer recommendations.

It’s too easy for a doctor — and you — to dismiss treatment as a quick diagnosis and medication. The best treatment plan begins with a strong connection with your doctor, who is essential to your success.


This article comes from the Summer issue of ADDitude.
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