If you suspect that your child has ADHD, getting the right diagnosis will require persistence. "Research shows that families consult with, on average, 11 doctors before they find the right one," says psychiatrist William Dodson, M.D. "Don't give up."
Here's what a thorough evaluation should include:
1. TIME: An initial consultation could range from 45 minutes to two hours or more. That time should be spent with the child as well as the parents, looking for signs of ADHD, and for other possible explanations for the symptoms. Your child's doctor may also arrange for your child to take intelligence tests or memory recall tests.
2. PAPERWORK: Expect to fill out questionnaires, checklists, and/or ADHD rating scales, and to ask your child's day care provider, preschool teacher, or other adults in your child's life to fill them out, too. The more input, the more likely your child will get an accurate diagnosis.
3. PHYSICAL EXAM: This should include screening for hearing and vision problems, to rule out physical causes for symptoms.
4. SOCIAL HISTORY: Have you moved five times during your child's first four years of life? Are you financially challenged? Is there a family member who is ill? These and other factors can make a child, especially a preschooler, anxious, and cause behavior that mimics ADHD.
5. FAMILY HISTORY: ADHD runs in families, so expect the doctor to ask questions about your mental health. "If neither parent has ADHD, then ADHD drops to the bottom of the list for what the child has," says Dodson. "If one parent has ADHD, there's a 50-50 chance that the child has it, too. If both parents have ADHD, it is a major contributor to the child's behavior."
6. SYMPTOM HISTORY: A child has to exhibit at least six of nine symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity prior to age seven in order to be diagnosed with ADHD. In addition, the symptoms should be exhibited in more than one setting (school, home), to a point where the symptoms affect normal functioning.
Laura Flynn McCarthy is a freelance writer based in Bow, New Hampshire.