ADHD Diagnosis Step 2: Testing, Testing
ADHD rating scales. These questionnaires can identify specific symptoms of ADHD that may not emerge in the clinical interview. Answers to the questions can reveal how well a person functions at school, home, or work. The scales are specifically formatted for children, adolescents, and adults. “ADHD rating scales have their pluses and minuses, and doctors go with the ones they feel most comfortable using,” says Patricia Quinn, M.D., director of the National Center for Girls and Women with ADHD. “I recommend using at least two scales that gauge both ADHD and other symptoms.”
Intelligence tests are a standard part of most thorough evaluations because they not only measure IQ but can also detect certain learning disabilities common in people with ADHD.
Broad-spectrum scales screen for social, emotional, and psychiatric problems, and they may be ordered if the doctor suspects a patient has anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or another condition in addition to ADHD.
Tests of specific abilities -- language development, vocabulary, memory recall, motor skills -- may also be recommended to screen for learning disabilities or other processing problems. The doctor may decide which tests to do based, in part, on which kinds of tasks you or your child find easy or difficult.
Computer tests are becoming popular because patients enjoy taking them, and because they can screen for attention and impulsivity problems, which are common in people with ADHD. These “continuous performance tests” (CPT) challenge the patient to sustain attention. A series of visual targets appear on the screen, and the user responds to prompts while the computer measures his ability to stay on task. In practice, some experts have found that these tests are better at identifying impulsive symptoms and less successful at flagging symptoms of inattention.
Brain scans. Neuro-imaging procedures, such as positron emission tomography (PET) scans, SPECT scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs), have long been used in research studies of ADHD. But their use in diagnosing ADHD has not yet been proved. They have revealed, though, that certain parts of the brain are smaller in volume in people who have ADHD than in people who don’t have the condition.
“You do not need a brain scan to be diagnosed with ADD, and they are not the standard of care,” says Hallowell. “Scans are not a cost-effective way of spending your health-care money, and they don’t contribute much to the diagnosis of ADD. But it seems that patients love seeing a picture of their brain, and the scans can often help them own the diagnosis.”
Where to Go for an ADHD Diagnosis
How Experts Make an ADHD Diagnosis
ADHD Diagnosis Step 1: The Consultation
Next: ADHD Diagnosis Step 3: Learning How to Manage Symptoms
Five Common Diagnosis Mistakes
New Criteria for Diagnosing ADHD Adults