To the untrained eye, the diagnosis process for attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) seems easy. After all, the very name of the disorder suggests that one with ADHD must be inattentive, hyperactive, impulsive, or all of the above.
However, ADHD is a far more complex disorder than it seems. For one thing, the three main symptoms of ADHD are not exclusive to the disorder. Hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity are also the symptoms of unrelated conditions like sensory integration disorder, autism, and nutritional deficiencies, to name a few. Your child's symptoms will not disappear if he or she is diagnosed and treated for the wrong disorder.
So how long should the ADHD diagnosis take? Should you be suspicious of a doctor who diagnoses your child too quickly? What sort of tests can you expect from an ADHD diagnosis?
If a doctor scribbles a prescription for ADHD medications after only fifteen minutes of talking to your child, you need to get a second opinion. A proper ADHD diagnosis - or evaluation, as I prefer to call it - is a lengthy process that involves various steps. The ADHD diagnosis involves putting a label to a set of behavioral and neurological problems. On the other hand, an ADHD evaluation involves obtaining the whole picture of your child's health and uncovering the causes of the disease in the process. ADHD has many possible causes beyond genetics, and it is important to discover these if your child is to recover from the disorder for good. Depending on what we find, ADHD testing can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks.
The first step is obtaining a thorough medical history from the child's parents, teacher, and the child himself. During the interview stage, expect to get asked a lot of questions about child's health, symptoms, and home environment. Even questions about the child's birth may be asked. The interview stage is very critical because the answers you give will determine the next part of the evaluation process. Sometimes, the answers from the interview can even reveal the potential causes of the disorder.
The next step involves making an objective measurement of your child's problems. This is done through behavioral scales and tests designed to measure IQ, screen for co-morbid disorders, or evaluate the severity of ADHD symptoms. After this, your child will need to go through a physical and neurological exam - just to make sure that other diseases are not masquerading as ADHD symptoms. This exam also allows the doctor to do a complete evaluation of your child's nervous system. If needed, complex imaging tests like Quantitative EEG and SPECT may be used to examine the subtle neurological differences in your child's brain.
Other tests that are used in the ADHD evaluation are lab tests and functional tests - tests that screen for allergic reactions, the presence of toxins in the body, or digestive problems, to name a few. Not all children will have to take all the tests mentioned here, though. Sometimes, the problems and their potential causes are isolated during the neurological exam. Other kids may have to go through advanced functional testing before we determine the causes of the disorder. The most important part is that the ADHD evaluation process covers as many bases as possible. Be wary of doctors that make the ADHD diagnosis hastily and prescribe medication in mere minutes.
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.