How to Get Tested for ADD

Five Methods:Looking for SymptomsGetting Diagnosed by a ProfessionalTaking Assessments and Alternative TestsGetting SupportLearning about ADHD

ADHD, or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, is a condition in which the individual has difficulty paying attention and gets easily distracted. This disorder used to be known as ADD (Attention-Deficit Disorder), but it was renamed ADHD by the American Psychiatric Association.[1] If you suspect that you or a person close to you has ADHD, be on the lookout for certain symptoms. Talk with a mental health professional to get an official diagnosis, and find the support you need to treat your ADHD.

Method 1
Looking for Symptoms

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    Track your activities and reactions over a couple of weeks. If you suspect you may have ADHD, pay attention to your emotions and reactions for a couple of weeks. Write down what you do and how you react and feel. Pay attention especially to your ability to focus and pay attention.
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    Determine if you have symptoms of inattentive ADHD. In order to qualify for a diagnosis, you must exhibit at least five symptoms (for an adult) or six symptoms (for a child 16 and under) in more than one setting, for at least six months. Symptoms must be inappropriate for the person’s developmental level and be seen as interrupting normal functioning on the job or in social or school settings. Symptoms for ADHD (inattentive presentation) include: [2]
    • Makes careless mistakes, is inattentive to detail
    • Has trouble paying attention (tasks, playing)
    • Doesn’t seem to be paying attention when someone is talking to him
    • Doesn’t follow through (homework, chores, jobs); easily sidetracked
    • Is organizationally challenged
    • Avoids tasks requiring sustained focus (like schoolwork)
    • Can’t keep track of or often loses keys, glasses, papers, tools, etc.
    • Is easily distracted
    • Is forgetful
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    Look for other symptoms of ADHD. An individual who is experiencing symptoms of Inattentive ADHD may also experience hyperactive-impulsive symptoms. These include: [3]
    • Fidgety, squirmy; taps hands or feet
    • Feels restless (a child would run or climb inappropriately)
    • Struggles to play quietly/do quiet activities
    • “On the go” as if “driven by a motor”
    • Excessive talking
    • Blurts out even before questions are asked
    • Struggles to wait for his turn
    • Interrupts others, inserts self into others’ discussions/games

Method 2
Getting Diagnosed by a Professional

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    Visit your family doctor for a physical exam. It’s a good idea to have a routine physical that will assess your overall health. Your doctor may also order specific tests, such as a blood test that checks lead levels, a blood test that looks for thyroid disease, and a CT scan or MRI to check brain activity.[4]
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    Choose the best medical professional for your diagnosis. Different types of doctors can offer different expertise.[5] It may be helpful to visit more than one doctor to get a full diagnosis and treatment plan.
    • A psychiatrist is trained in diagnosing ADHD and is licensed to prescribe medication. This person may not be trained in counseling.
    • A psychologist is trained in diagnosing ADHD and is trained in counseling. This person is not licensed to prescribe medication in most states; however, psychologists in New Mexico, Louisiana, and Illinois can prescribe medication.[6]
    • Your family doctor is familiar with your medical history but may lack the specialized knowledge about ADHD. This person is also not trained in counseling.
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    Schedule an appointment with a mental health professional. A psychiatrist or psychologist who specializes in ADHD issues can make the diagnosis for you about ADHD. This person will interview you to get a detailed idea of your past and current life experiences and challenges.[7]
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    Assemble health records. Bring your health records to your appointment, as these may indicate certain health conditions that mimic symptoms of ADHD.[8]
    • Talk with your parents or other family members about your family medical history. ADHD can be genetic, so it is helpful for your doctor to know about your family's past medical issues.
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    Bring employment records. Many individuals with ADHD experience difficulty at work, including time management, focusing and managing projects. These challenges are often reflected in job performance reviews as well as the number and types of jobs you’ve held. Bring these records to your appointment.
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    Gather report cards and school records. Your ADHD has likely been impacting you for years. You may have gotten poor grades or you may have frequently been in trouble in school. If you can find your old report cards and school records, bring them to your appointment. Go back as far as possible, even to elementary school.[9]
    • If you think your child has ADHD, bring his or her report cards and samples of school work to the appointment. The mental health professional may also request behavior reports from your child’s teachers.[10]
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    Bring your partner or family member with you. It can be extremely useful for the therapist to talk with other people about your possible ADHD. It might be hard for you to say that you’re constantly restless or that you have trouble concentrating.[11]
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    Rule out other disorders. Many disorders mimic some of the symptoms of ADHD, contributing to misdiagnoses. [12] Some of the conditions that may resemble ADHD include learning disabilities, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders, epilepsy, thyroid dysfunction and sleep disorders. Talk with your doctor or mental health professional about whether you have any of these disorders.
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    Recognize the possibility of comorbidity with ADHD. Comorbidity is the presence of two disorders in one patient.[13] As if having an ADHD diagnosis isn’t challenging enough, one out of every five with ADHD is diagnosed with another serious disorder (depression and bipolar disorder are common partners). One-third of children with ADD also have a behavioral disorder (conduct disorder, oppositional defiance disorder). [14] ADHD tends to pair up with learning disabilities and anxiety, too.[15]

Method 3
Taking Assessments and Alternative Tests

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    Fill out the Vanderbilt Assessment Scale. This questionnaire asks 55 questions about various symptoms, reactions and emotions that the individual feels. There are questions about hyperactivity, impulse control, focus, and so on. It also has questions for the assessment of personal relationships.[16]
    • If your child is getting tested for ADHD, you as parent will also fill out a Vanderbilt Assessment Scale questionnaire.
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    Take the Behavior Assessment System for Children. This test evaluates symptoms of ADHD in children and young adults up to age 25.[17]
    • There are scales for parents and teachers as well as for the individual. The combination of these scales will assess the individual’s positive and negative behaviors.
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    Try the Child Behavior Checklist/Teacher Report Form. This form assesses various symptoms, including problems related to thought, social interactions, and attention, as well as multiple other factors.[18]
    • There are two versions of this checklist: one is for preschoolers aged 1½ to 5, and another for children aged 6 to 18.[19]
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    Ask about a brain wave scan. One alternative test is the Neuropsychiatric EEG-Based Assessment Aid (NEBA). This electroencephalogram scans the patient’s brain waves to measure the theta and beta brain waves that are emitted. The ratio of these brain waves is higher in children and teens with ADD.[20]
    • The Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. has approved the use of this test for children aged 6 to 17.
    • Some experts consider this exam to be cost-prohibitive. They don’t think the test adds information that can’t already be assessed from the usual procedures for diagnosing ADHD.[21]
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    Take a continuous performance test. There are several computer based tests that clinicians use in conjunction with a clinical interview to determine the likelihood of ADHD. Continuous performance testing is used to measure sustained attention ability.[22],[23]
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    Ask your doctor about a test to track your eye movement. Recent studies have shown a direct link between ADHD and the inability to stop eye movement.[24] This type of test is still in the experimental phase, but it has shown remarkable accuracy in predicting ADHD cases.

Method 4
Getting Support

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    See a mental health therapist. Adults with ADHD generally benefit from psychotherapy.[25] This treatment helps individuals accept who they are, while at the same time helps them seek improvements to their situation.
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy directly geared toward treating ADHD has been useful for many patients. This type of therapy addresses some of the core problems caused by ADHD, such as time management and organizational issues.[26]
    • You may also suggest to family members to visit a therapist. Therapy can also provide a safe place for family members to vent their frustrations in a healthy way and work out issues with professional guidance.
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    Join a support group. Numerous organizations provide individual support as well as networking amongst members who can get together online or in person to share problems and solutions. Search online for a support group in your area.
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    Find online resources. There are numerous online resources that provide information, advocacy and support for individuals with ADHD and their families. Some resources include:
    • Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) distributes information via its website, through webinars, and via newsletters. It also provides electronic support, one-on-one live support, and conferences for adults with ADHD.
    • Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) was founded in 1987 and now has over 12,000 members. It provides information, training, and advocacy for persons with ADHD and those who care about them.
    • ADDitude Magazine is a free online resource that provides information, strategies, and support for adults with ADHD, children with ADHD, and parents of persons with ADHD.
    • ADHD & You provides resources for adults with ADHD, parents of children with ADHD, teachers and healthcare providers who serve persons with ADHD. It includes a section of online videos for teachers and guidelines for school staff to work more successfully with students who have ADHD.
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    Talk with your family and friends. You may find it useful to talk about your ADHD with your family and trusted friends. These are people who you can call when you find yourself depressed, anxious or otherwise affected negatively.

Method 5
Learning about ADHD

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    Learn about the brain structures of individuals with ADHD. Scientific analyses show the brains of persons with ADHD are slightly different in that two structures tend to be smaller.[27]
    • The first, the basal ganglia, regulates the movement of muscles and signals which should be working and which should be at rest during given activities.[28] If a child is sitting at his desk in the classroom, for example, the basal ganglia should send a message telling the feet to rest. But the feet don’t get the message, thus remaining in motion when the child is seated.[29]
    • The second brain structure that is smaller than normal in a person with ADHD is the prefrontal cortex, [30] which is the brain’s hub for conducting higher-order executive tasks[31]. This is where memory and learning[32] and attention regulation [33] come together to help us function intellectually.
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    Learn how dopamine and serotonin affect individuals with ADHD. A smaller-than-normal prefrontal cortex with lower-than-optimal dopamine and serotonin means greater struggles to focus and effectively tune out all the extraneous stimuli flooding the brain all at once. [34]
    • The prefrontal cortex influences the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine.[35] Dopamine is tied directly to the ability to focus[36] and tends to be at lower levels in persons with ADD.[37]
    • Serotonin, another neurotransmitter found in the prefrontal cortex, [38] impacts mood, sleep, and appetite.[39] Eating chocolate, for instance, spikes serotonin causing a temporary feeling of well-being; when serotonin drops low, however, depression and anxiety result. [40]
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    Learn about possible causes of ADD. The jury’s still out on the causes of ADHD but it’s well accepted that genetics play a large role, with certain DNA anomalies occurring more often in people with ADHD. In addition, studies show correlations between children with ADHD to prenatal alcohol and smoking as well as to early childhood exposure to lead. [41]

Sources and Citations

  1. Adler, Lenard A., Thomas J. Spencer, Timothy E. Wilens. (2015). Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Adults and Children. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Symptoms and Diagnosis found at
  3. Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Symptoms and Diagnosis found at
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Article Info

Categories: Attention and Developmental Disorders