ADHD Rating Scales

An attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) diagnosis is given when a clinician uses rating scales to assess whether a patient meets the DSM criteria of symptoms and behaviors, such as distraction. Learn how they work, why they're valuable, if they work for both children and adults, and more.

ADHD checklist with man's hand and pen

Rating scales are used for assessing whether a patient meets the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria for a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD). They allow the clinician to quantify behaviors that can’t be readily observed in the clinic -- for example, how easily distracted a patient may be. The clinician wants to determine how a person’s symptoms compare with those in the rest of the population. There are scales for gauging ADD/ADHD symptoms, executive function, and so on.

How do ADD/ADHD rating scales work?

Most adult rating scales are self-report scale, filled out by the patient; others are administered by a clinician. The patient evaluates behaviors (“makes careless mistakes” or “talks excessively”) on a frequency basis: “never,” “rarely,” “sometimes,” “often,” “very often.”

Do rating scales work for ADD/ADHD children?

Several studies show that children are not accurate reporters of their own ADD/ADHD symptoms. Although there are several scales for kids ages 12 and up, their responses are generally for clinical information, to find out how the child thinks about himself, rather than for diagnostic purposes. A more effective approach is to ask parents and two teachers -- a math and an English teacher preferably -- to fill out the scales.

How long do ADD/ADHD rating scales take to fill out?

Typically, ratings scales ask about 18 behaviors and can be completed in five to 10 minutes.

Why are ADD/ADHD rating scales valuable?

They allow a clinician to assess behaviors over a long period of time. Most scales ask the patient to rate behaviors or symptoms based on the last six months. A clinician would have to live with his patient for that period to glean the information a rating scale provides.

Are ADD/ADHD rating scales tailored to the patient?

Absolutely. There are ratings scales that present norms for different ages, ethnic backgrounds, and regions of the country, as well as for both genders.

Should a clinician always use ADD/ADHD rating scales?

In most cases, yes. If a doctor doesn’t use one during an evaluation, the patient should know why. Clinicians are encouraged to use rating scales, even for diagnosing depression and anxiety.

More ADD/ADHD Diagnosis Information

Your ADHD Diagnosis: How to Make Sure It's Accurate
ADHD Diagnosis: Your Step-by-Step Guide
Getting an ADHD Diagnosis: 3 Common Mistakes

This article comes from the Fall 2010 issue of ADDitude.

To read this issue of ADDitude in full, buy the back issue.

TAGS: Adult ADD: Late Diagnosis, Diagnosing Children with ADHD, ADHD Symptoms, Behavior in ADHD Kids

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