ADHD Basics

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/ADHD) in Children Overview

Sometimes your child doesn't pay attention or follow directions, and you wonder if she has AD/HD. How is it diagnosed?  What can you do to help him?

What Is AD/HD?
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurobehavioral disorder that affects an estimated 3-7 percent of the school age population. Seventy Five percent of all children afflicted are males.  There is no scientific evidence on why this occurs it simply does. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV (DSM-IV), published by the American Psychiatric Association, describes three subtypes of AD/ADHD:

  •   Inattentive — can't seem to get focused or stay focused on a task
  •   Hyperactive-impulsive — very active and often acts without thinking
  •   Combined — inattentive, impulsive, and too active

How is AD/HD Diagnosed?
Currently, there are no medical tests, such as blood tests or electrical imaging (such as MRI), that diagnose AD/HD. However, research in this area is being conducted with the hope that making the diagnosis can be more precise in the near future.

At this time, behavior criteria from DSM-IV are used to make the determination of AD/HD. Some of these behaviors are seen more often at certain periods of child development, and behaviors may vary for boys and girls. Individual clinicians may interpret the criteria differently, so it's important that you choose a qualified professional to make the diagnosis.

Because of inconsistencies in diagnosis by medical professionals, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) came out with its guidelines in May 2000. They recommend a comprehensive assessment that relies on direct information from parents (or caregivers) and the classroom teacher (or other school professional) using developmental history, rating scales, observations, and available test results.

Information from all of the sources is reviewed carefully. The clinician has to make a judgment about whether the symptoms of AD/HD impair academic achievement, classroom performance, family and social relationships, independent functioning, self-esteem, leisure activities, and/or self-care. So it usually takes two or more visits to the clinician before a diagnosis can be made.