Children have different energy levels, temperaments, personalities and mature at different rates. Children most of the time, find it hard to concentrate, act impulsively and get distracted and these things may mistakenly label them as having attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). The signs and symptoms of ADHD can manifest in a child as early as 3 years of age and up to 6 years of age. ADHD can be quite difficult to diagnose because its symptoms differ from person to person. Parents may first get a glimpse of their child’s ADHD when their child seems to be out of control, unfocused or loses interest in things much quicker than other children. However, it is the teacher who usually first notices the signs and symptoms of ADHD in a child. A child who always seems disoriented (spaces out) in the playground or classroom or has difficulty following rules is an indication that he may be suffering from ADHD.
In order to diagnose for ADHD, a health professional must collect all important information about the child especially regarding the environment he is exposed to and his behavior. The child’s family may need to talk to his pediatrician. The pediatrician can thoroughly evaluate the child although some families will go to a mental health specialist who specializes in childhood ADHD and certain brain disorders. The mental health specialist or pediatrician will first attempt to rule out other conditions. Certain health conditions, events and situations may cause temporary signs and symptoms that mimic ADHD signs and symptoms. These are the factors that need to be ruled out first.
Either the specialist or the pediatrician will ascertain if a child:
- Has depression or anxiety or other psychiatric issues that might lead to ADHD-like symptoms
- Has learning difficulties
- Has any medical conditions that interfere with proper behavior and thinking
- Has any undetected vision or hearing problems
- Has middle ear infection that is causing problems in hearing
- Is suffering from undetected seizures that can be the result of certain other medical problems
- Has been affected by a sudden and major change like a parent’s loss of a job, a divorce or death of a member of a family
The specialist may review the medical and school records of a child to look for patterns of ADHD and to see if the child’s school or home settings have been disrupted or unusually stressful. The specialist can also talk to the parents and teachers to collect more information about the child. Babysitters, coaches and other adults who are familiar with the child may also be interviewed.
Certain questions such as the ones listed below may be asked by the specialist:
- Do these behaviors affect all aspects of the life of the child and are they severe?
- Does the child manifest these behaviors more often compared to the other children in school?
- Are the behaviors merely a response to a temporary situation or are they a longstanding problem?
- Are these behaviors manifested in only one setting (like the home, classroom or playground) or are they seen in several settings?
The specialist closely observes the behavior of the child in different settings and during different situations. Some situations would require the child to pay attention. Usually, children with ADHD are capable of controlling their behaviors during certain situations if they are provided activities that they really enjoy and when they are getting individual attention. The child is also closely evaluated whenever he is in certain social situations. He may be given tests of academic achievement of intellectual ability to determine if he suffers from a learning problem.
Lastly, after all the important information has been collected, if the child meets the model for ADHD, he likely will be diagnosed with this condition.