ADHD Diagnosis in Kids

Study Looks at ADHD in Adults and Teenagers

Current medical criteria are designed to diagnose ADHD symptoms in children. Doctors hope to develop tools specific for adults and teens with ADHD.

Crowd of people with ADHD walking through city
Crowd of people with ADHD walking through city

Attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) continues into adolescence and adulthood in as many as 80% of those who are diagnosed as children. However, doctors and clinicians who wish to diagnose teenagers and adults who may have the disorder are stuck criteria that was designed for children and may not work for older people.

Although scientists understand a great deal about how AD/HD affects children, little is known specifically about AD/HD in adults and teens.

Researchers at Michigan State University want to change that. The National Institutes of Health has given researchers at MSU a $1.5 million grant to investigate how AD/HD works in the adolescent and adult brain.

“The field has no developmentally appropriate criteria for adult diagnosis,” said Joel T. Nigg, an assistant professor of psychology who is heading the project. “Instead, clinicians must use childhood criteria and try to apply it to adults.”

The lack of adult or adolescent-specific diagnostic criteria means that clinicians must rely heavily on patient histories and the memories of parents, teachers and others in order to make a diagnosis. Such a retro-active diagnostic approach can present problems as memories fade and people become harder to locate. Teens and Adults who have AD/HD may not always be relied upon to provide accurate self-assessments.

Nigg and his team hope to find an accurate and objective way to diagnose AD/HD in teens and adults and to identify those who might have been missed as children.

In an effort to get a better handle on how ADHD can affect the adult brain, Nigg and colleagues are using cutting-edge measures of language and visual processing designed to tap into the regions of the brain thought to be involved in attention problems.

For example, the researchers use a piece of equipment that can carefully track eye movement.

“This can tell where you’re looking and how fast you can move your eye,” Nigg said. “This can provide clues as to how quickly the brain is perceiving and processing information.”

Nigg said one of the reasons the NIH opted to fund this study is because it is using the latest technology designed to delve into cognitive processes that may be related to the regions of the brain that could be affected by ADHD.

“We’re using approaches of how to measure these functions that have never been applied to ADHD populations before,” he said. “Hopefully, some of these measures we’re developing will be assessment tools 25 years from now.”