How Does ADHD Testing Work?


Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most prevalent childhood neurodevelopmental conditions. It is frequently diagnosed for the first time at a young age and continues throughout maturity. Children with ADHD may struggle to control impulsive behaviours, pay attention, or regulate their activity level. They may also behave without considering any consequences.

ADHD significantly affects the lives of children and young adults living with the condition. It can affect their performance at school, their behaviour, and their ability to plan and organise time. For many people, an ADHD diagnosis can be a huge source of support, providing opportunities for medication, extra time for exams, and other resources that may help them manage their condition and achieve their full potential.

What Are the Symptoms of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

ADHD symptoms can be classified into two categories: inattentiveness and hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Most young people living with ADHD have symptoms from both categories, but this is not always the case. In particular, girls may struggle with inattentiveness but not show symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

Symptoms of ADHD in children and young teens are usually easy to identify. Their symptoms tend to be well-defined and occur in multiple situations. Adult ADHD symptoms can be more difficult to notice, partly because there is less research into the way the condition affects older people. Symptoms of inattentiveness and hyperactivity may manifest very differently in adults than in children, but these manifestations are much less well-defined. They are also often far more subtle than those of younger people.

Inattentiveness Symptoms in Children

Inattentiveness (difficulty concentrating and focusing) symptoms among children may include:

  • a short attention span
  • being easily distracted
  • making many careless mistakes
  • frequently losing things
  • finding it hard to stick to tasks, especially a boring or difficult project
  • finding it hard to listen to or complete instructions
  • constantly changing tasks
  • organisation issues

Hyperactivity and Impulsiveness Symptoms in Children

Some common signs of hyperactivity and impulsiveness are:

  • finding it hard to sit still
  • constant fidgeting
  • inability to concentrate of tasks
  • moving around excessively
  • talking excessively
  • not being able to wait their turn
  • acting without thinking
  • frequently interrupting conversations
  • appearing overly fearless

ADHD Symptoms in Adults or Adolescents

Some of the signs of ADHD in adults or adolescents may include:

  • having difficulty unwinding and relaxing
  • tending to feel overly active with a strong urge to do things
  • finding it hard to remain seated in meetings
  • having difficulty waiting their turn
  • having difficulty keeping attention during long or repetitive work
  • having trouble wrapping up the details of a project
  • tending to feel restless or fidgety
  • having problems remembering appointments
  • engaging in risky behaviours such as substance abuse or drink driving

How Does a Young Person Receive an ADHD Diagnosis?

Young people with ADHD can receive a diagnosis by visiting a specialist, such as:

  • a specialist child or adult psychiatrist
  • a paediatrician
  • another appropriately qualified healthcare professional with extensive training and expertise in diagnosing attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder

You may be referred to one of these specialists by your GP or another healthcare provider or make an appointment directly.

What Does ADHD Testing Involve?

There is no simple test that can diagnose ADHD. Instead, a specialist may use several different techniques to provide an accurate diagnosis.

This may involve:

  • a physical assessment to rule out other causes of symptoms
  • interviews with a young person and/or their parent
  • reports or interviews from other important people in a young person’s life, such as teachers or partners

Scientists and mental health specialists have developed a variety of clinical tests and scales to be used alongside a clinical interview. These include:

  • ADHD behaviour rating scales
  • performance and symptom validity testing
  • cognitive tests

Research suggests that using a variety of techniques increases the chance that an ADHD test is specific and sensitive. That is, people without ADHD will receive a negative result and those with ADHD will receive a positive one.

What Are the Limits of ADHD Testing?

While an ADHD test can give an accurate diagnosis of the condition, it isn’t fully reliable. There are several reasons that an ADHD test may lead to a misdiagnosis, including:

  • inaccurate responses in a clinical interview, especially among adults and adolescents who may be asked to remember their childhood experiences
  • symptoms of ADHD may be mistaken for another co-occurring mental health condition, and vice-versa
  • symptoms of ADHD among college students are often non-specific and caused by a combination of factors rather than one condition

In general, it’s easier to diagnose ADHD in children than in adulthood. Symptoms of childhood ADHD are much more specific and well-defined. Moreover, since a diagnosis of ADHD requires that symptoms began in childhood, adolescents and adults may have to recall their previous behaviours, which they may be unsure of.

If you think your child may have ADHD, don’t hesitate to speak to a healthcare professional. Participating in ADHD tests and receiving an ADHD diagnosis early increases the chance of an accurate diagnosis while ensuring that your child has the support they need right away.

How Common Is ADHD?

While estimates of the worldwide prevalence of ADHD vary, research suggests that around 5% of children under the age of 18 may live with ADHD. In countries where testing for ADHD is more common, these figures can be much higher. For example, according to data from the CDC, approximately 9.8% of 3 to 17-year-olds in the United States have received a diagnosis of ADHD.

How Can You Treat ADHD?

If untreated, ADHD can make day-to-day life challenging for young people and prevent them from reaching their full potential. However, there are lots of different ADHD services and treatment options available to support young people to manage their symptoms and pursue their goals for the future.

ADHD treatment options include:

  • talk therapies such as cognitive-behavioural therapy
  • psychoeducation
  • medication
  • parent education and training

With time, support, and care, any young person with ADHD can live a fulfilling and productive life. An ADHD diagnosis can open the door to their future.

Transformative Treatment Experiences at The Wave

The Wave offers specialist treatment for teenagers, young adults, and their families. We adopt a holistic approach that caters to the various needs of every young person, equipping them with the skills they need to pursue their goals and follow their dreams. We combine evidence-based, expert-led clinical approaches with life skills and social development to support meaningful and lasting change.

Our programs combine mental health treatment with a gap year experience, supporting young people to learn, grow, and flourish. We draw on the spectacular location of our facilities in Malaysia, incorporating the surrounding natural environment into our recovery programs. We encourage young people to interact with each other and the world around them in positive and productive ways, through programs such as gardening, cooking, and social responsibility.

If you think your child may be living with ADHD or another mental health condition, contact us today for confidential and expert advice. We’re here to help.

Further reading can be found via our blog What Is ADHD Inattentive Type? and ADHD in Teenage Girls and Young Women.

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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