How is ADHD Diagnosed? (and is it over-diagnosed?)

Pathologizing?

There is wide-spread belief that children are over-diagnosed and over-prescribed, which implies that some kids are ‘just being kids’ and we’re pathologizing them, i.e. giving them a diagnosis, counseling, and medication when we should, rather, be sensitive and accommodating to the wide-spectrum in children’s activity-level and ability to attend. Is this an accurate perspective?

Just the facts Mam’

First, lets look at the stats: Rates of children, ages 4-17, diagnosed with ADHD are at about 7.8% (according to a recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey), which is not especially high, and stimulant prescription rates range between 4.3% and 4.4%, which you can see is substantially lower than 7.8%. Also, in that same survey, it was found that only 48% of the ADHD sample had received any mental health care over the prior 12 months, which would suggest children are, actually, being under-treated.

How is the diagnosis made?

To make the point further, if a clinician uses a strict clinical protocol, false-positives (inaccurate diagnosis) should be kept to a minimum. I provide a thorough explanation of the evaluation process in my video on the ‘evaluation process’

But here is a quick overview of specifically what is needed for an ADHD diagnosis: Click Here to Watch YouTube Video

-The child must have a long-history of demonstrating the core ADHD symptoms of inattention, impulsitivity, and hyperactivity. ADHD does not suddenly ‘spring-up’ one day after years of attentiveness. It’s usually something teachers and parents see from as early as the pre-school years.

-The signs are seen in multiple locations (school, home, community…).

-The problem is really getting in the way of the child’s functioning.

-Someone else in the family also has a similar problem with inattention, impulsivity… (ADHD tends to run in the family).

The problem cannot be explained better by some other malady. For example, if the child is distressed, depressed, anxious, or has learning issues, that may explain the symptoms better than ‘ADHD’. In that regard, if a child is experiencing some sort of stress or serious problem, it’s likely he or she will be preoccupied and subsequently have trouble concentrating.

So you can see…

If this protocol is followed, it’s far more likely that there will be an accurate diagnosis, and an effective treatment plan can then be established. I’ve written at length about proper strategies to address ADHD (please see my prior blog posts) that include a consistent and predictable routine, visual reminders, an organized environment, extra attention and assistance, counseling to improve insight and coping strategies and, in some cases, a medication consultation.

Questions?

If you have questions about this process or your child’s diagnosis, email me at jcarosso@cpcwecare.com or call the office. I’d be happy to answer your concerns.

Dr. John Carosso

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Dr. John Carosso

Dr. Carosso has more than 30 years of experience as a licensed Child Clinical Psychologist and Certified School Psychologist working in private, inpatient, outpatient, residential, school, and home settings. He is Clinical Director of Community Psychiatric Centers (cpcwecare.com), a licensed Behavioral Health Outpatient Clinic, and operates both the Autism Center of Pittsburgh (autismcenterofpittsburgh.com) and the Dyslexia Diagnostic and Treatment Center (dyslexiatreaters.com).