The Complete Guide to ADHD Evaluations
Content reviewed and updated: 09/29/21
Have you been struggling with inattention or hyperactivity? You may want to consider an evaluation for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Currently, there is not one specific test for ADHD. An evaluation is the first step to diagnosis and treatment. It’s important to receive a full-length evaluation from a qualified provider. This process ensures you get the right diagnosis and treatment to meet your unique needs.
Your provider will determine if you have ADHD or a condition with similar symptoms. In certain cases, a provider may find that a patient has more than one condition. Your evaluation is key in finding the right treatment for you.
In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about getting an ADHD evaluation and how to prepare.
How to know if you need an ADHD evaluation
ADHD can present in a variety of ways and can vary from person to person. For example, women may experience different symptoms than men. Symptoms in children can be different than those found in adults. So how do you know if an evaluation is right for you?
ADHD causes significant problems in many areas of life. According to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), common issues for those who seek evaluation include:
- Inconsistent performance in jobs or careers; losing or quitting jobs frequently
- History of academic and/or career underachievement
- Difficulty managing day-to-day responsibilities
- Relationship problems due to not completing tasks
- Forgetting important things or getting upset easily over minor things
- Chronic stress and worry due to failure to reach goals and meet responsibilities
- Chronic and intense feelings of frustration, guilt or blame
If you have been struggling with any of these concerns, an ADHD evaluation might be right for you.
You may also decide that you want to take an online quiz or questionnaire. While these tools can’t diagnose ADHD on their own, they can help you know if you need an evaluation. It can be helpful to bring this information to your professional evaluation, too. That way, the provider can understand more about your symptoms to make a proper diagnosis. They can also help explain things to you that you may not fully understand from your online research.
It can be difficult to sift through all the information on ADHD that you find online. The symptoms and diagnosis can be confusing. While the temptation to self-diagnose can be strong, having a professional evaluation is important. The symptoms of ADHD often overlap with other conditions. At times, symptoms that seem like ADHD may be a normal, temporary reaction to stress in your life. To really know if you have ADHD, a professional evaluation with an ADHD expert is best.
Who to see for an ADHD evaluation
Once you have determined that you want an evaluation for ADHD, you’ll need to meet with a qualified provider. Many different kinds of providers are trained to administer ADHD evaluations, including:
- Nurse practitioners
- Physician Assistants
- Primary care providers
- Social workers
- Licensed counselors
- Licensed therapists
When searching for a provider, it’s important to ask about their experience and training with ADHD. Research around ADHD is relatively new and is evolving. Make sure you are choosing a provider who is well-versed in the latest research.
How to prepare for your evaluation
You may be nervous about your first evaluation. That’s perfectly normal! It can feel vulnerable to discuss your symptoms with a provider. Yet, being open and honest with them is necessary. They need to fully understand the impact that your symptoms are having on your life.
While you don’t have to bring anything to your appointment, it can be helpful to bring any records of your symptoms. This could be a diary, report cards, prior medical records, or job reviews. This will help give your provider an idea of the impact your symptoms have on your life.
What to expect at your ADHD evaluation
Not every ADHD evaluation will be exactly the same. Different providers have different approaches. One element is essential, however: your diagnostic interview. During this part of the evaluation, your provider will ask questions about your symptoms and questions about your family, medical, and psychiatric history. They will be checking to see if you meet the criteria for ADHD or other conditions.
To get a full picture of your symptoms’ impact on your life, your provider may ask to speak to your friends or family. This is just to learn a little more about what symptoms they may have observed and would only occur with your consent. If you are not comfortable with this step, it is not a requirement for diagnosis.
Your provider may use other tools during your evaluation. They may use questionnaires or request medical testing. Medical testing alone cannot determine if you have ADHD but it can rule out other causes for your symptoms. It may also be needed to determine if certain medications are right for you.
While your evaluation should be thorough enough to fully understand your situation, it should not be cumbersome. At Ahead, we do not cut corners or skip any important aspects of a proper evaluation. That said, we also do not perform excessive evaluation steps like some practices. For example, requiring all patients to come to multiple visits before making a diagnosis, performing neuropsychiatric evaluations, or using computer-based tests. These steps can be expensive, and their results are not necessarily valid and reliable across populations. And if you are already struggling, the evaluation process should help you feel supported on your path to moving forward.
Criteria for ADHD diagnosis
There are three kinds of ADHD: inattention, hyperactivity/impulsivity, or combined. Inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity each have their own criteria for diagnosis. The combined type is for those who experience symptoms of both types. When seeking an ADHD diagnosis as an adult, you must have at least five symptoms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person with inattention ADHD may have these symptoms:
- Fails to give close attention to details
- Has trouble holding attention on tasks or activities
- Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
- Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish tasks
- Has trouble organizing tasks and activities
- Avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that need mental effort over a long period of time
- Loses things necessary for tasks and activities
- Is easily distracted
- Is forgetful in daily activities
Hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms include:
- Fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in their seat
- Leaves their seat in situations when remaining seated is expected
- Feels restless consistently
- Unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly
- Is “on the go” acting as if “driven by a motor”
- Talks excessively
- Blurts out an answer before a question has been completed
- Has trouble waiting their turn
- Interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)
Receiving your diagnosis
Once you’ve completed your evaluation, your provider will review the information gathered. They will give you a diagnosis if appropriate, and ask you to provide any additional information they may need, such as medical clearance. If treatment is appropriate, your provider will develop a treatment plan that may include therapy and/or medication. As you work with your provider, your treatment may change to meet the needs of your symptoms. It can take some time to find the right combination of therapies and dose of medications.
We hope you now feel more confident about the process of ADHD evaluation. At Ahead, we aim to help our patients start on a clearer path to a calmer mind. Whether you need straightforward care from a primary care provider or would benefit from more extensive treatment with a psychiatric specialist, we have options for you. Get started with a full-length evaluation today.