The ADHD diagnosis is an important first step to helping children recover from severe inattention or hyperactivity. Unfortunately, the world of office medicine is very rushed, and it's easy for doctors to make the ADHD diagnosis without proper evaluation. Here are five common mistakes by doctors that lead to an ADHD misdiagnosis.
Failing to consider the context of the symptoms
It's not uncommon for children to get diagnosed and medicated for ADHD based solely on a parent's complaint or teachers report. However, true ADHD shows its symptoms in two different settings - not just one. I once treated a child who has tried three different kinds of stimulants; his mother was concerned because he was rapidly losing weight, and his symptoms weren't improving. He got diagnosed and treated for ADHD when she showed their doctor a letter from a teacher saying that he could never sit still or concentrate in class. When I asked her how he behaves at home, she immediately replied with, "He's perfectly fine at home. He doesn't seem to have a problem." Asking feedback from the rest of his family, his parents' friends, and Sunday school teachers confirmed his mother's observations - the child is not hyperactive or unfocused outside the school environment.
In addition, most doctors only get feedback about the child's behavior from one parent. To get a better picture of the child's problems, it's best to obtain a history from both parents, a teacher, a grandparent, and a relative or close friend who does not live with the family.
Assuming that a previous ADHD diagnosis is correct
Children hop from one stimulant to another because many doctors take the previous diagnosis at face value and assume it is correct. Do not assume that your doctor made the right diagnosis; when in doubt, seek a second opinion.
Failing to screen other disorders
Many parents don't realize that inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity are not unique to ADHD; they are symptoms that point to a variety of problems, from autism to sensory integration disorder. Stimulant medications may suppress the symptoms temporarily, but they do nothing to address the real underlying problem.
Failing to interview the child
Most doctors skip interviewing the child and go straight to writing a prescription. It's important to hear about the symptoms from the child experiencing; this will give you a better picture of what's really going on. ADHD behaviors can be caused by many things - a bully at school, problems at home, or a boring curriculum.
Taking history from a non-parent
You'd be surprised at the number of kids who get taken to doctors' offices for an ADHD evaluation - an uncle, babysitter, or someone other than a parent. It's difficult to obtain a clear picture of the problem without a parent around.
Dr. Yannick Pauli is an expert on natural approaches to ADHD and the author of the popular self-help home-program The Unritalin Solution. He is Director of the Centre Neurofit in Lausanne, Switzerland and has a passion taking care of children with ADHD. Click on the link for more great information about what is ADHD.