What is ADHD screening?
ADHD screening is also called ADHD testing. It helps find out if a child, teen, or adult has ADHD. ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It used to be called ADD (attention-deficit disorder).
A person who has ADHD has a hard time paying attention and focusing on tasks. ADHD is a common developmental disorder that begins in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. Although it's usually diagnosed in childhood, some people with ADHD don't get diagnosed with ADHD until they are adults.
There are three types of ADHD:
- Mostly Inattentive ADHD. People with this type of ADHD have trouble paying attention and are easily distracted. It's hard for them to organize or finish tasks. They may have trouble following instructions or conversations.
- Mostly Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD. People with this type of ADHD have symptoms of both hyperactivity and impulsivity:
- With hyperactivity, people feel a need to always be moving. They have trouble sitting still and may fidget and/or talk too much.
- With impulsivity, people have trouble controlling their actions and words. They tend to act on sudden ideas or feelings without thinking about the possible results. They may interrupt others a lot or have trouble waiting their turn.
- Combined ADHD. People with this type of ADHD have a mix of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms. Combined ADHD is the most common type.
It's normal to sometimes have trouble paying attention or sitting still, especially for children. But people with ADHD have more severe symptoms that cause serious problems, for example, failing grades for a child or a job loss for an adult. The symptoms are ongoing and may affect family and social life, too.
There's no single test to show whether a person has ADHD. Instead, a health care provider will follow a set of professional guidelines for gathering information, doing tests, and diagnosing the cause of a person's symptoms. Treatment is available to help people of all ages who have been diagnosed with ADHD.
Other names: ADHD test
What is it used for?
ADHD screening is used to check for ADHD in people who have frequent, serious problems with attention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsive behavior. The screening also checks for other mental disorders that often happen with ADHD. Sometimes symptoms of these other disorders are mistaken for ADHD.
ADHD screening is used with children as young age four. If you have a younger child with symptoms that could be ADHD, ask your child's provider which type of testing might be best.
Why do I need ADHD screening?
Your child may need screening if you, a teacher, or another caregiver thinks your child has symptoms of ADHD.
Adults who have had challenges since childhood (before age 12) with focusing, impulsive behavior, restlessness, and/or being organized can ask their providers if they need to be screened for ADHD. The symptoms depend on the type of ADHD a person has.
People with symptoms of attention problems may often:
- Miss details or make careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or in other activities
- Have trouble staying focused on play activities or work tasks
- Not seem to listen when spoken to directly
- Find it hard to follow instructions or finish tasks, or may start but get easily sidetracked
- Have trouble being organized, keeping belongings in order, and managing time
- Avoid doing tasks that require long periods of mental effort
- Lose important items, such as books, wallets, keys, eyeglasses, and cellphones
- Forget about doing daily activities
People with symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity may often:
- Fidget and squirm while seated
- Get up when staying seated is expected, such as at school or work
- Run around or climb when it's not appropriate (children) or feel restless (teens and adults)
- Have trouble doing quiet activities
- Be constantly moving or "on the go"
- Talk much more than is normal
- Blurt out answers before questions are completed
- Have trouble waiting for their turn
- Interrupt others for example during conversations or games
People with combined ADHD show a mix of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms.
What happens during an ADHD screening?
The general screening process is similar for people of all ages. It involves several steps. A primary care provider may do the entire screening or refer the person to a mental health provider. A mental health provider is a health care professional who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health problems.
During an ADHD screening, the provider will:
- Do a physical exam. An exam by a primary care provider checks for certain health conditions that can cause symptoms similar to ADHD. The exam may include vision and hearing tests (for children and adults), thyroid tests, and other tests.
- Review medical history, family health history, and other records. The cause of ADHD isn't known, but it often runs in families. So, family history is important. The results of any past tests and school reports provide valuable information, too. For adults, old school records can help a provider find out if symptoms began in childhood.
- Gather information using standardized ADHD symptom checklists, questionnaires, and/or interview questions. A provider will use one or more tools to gather, organize, and evaluate information during an ADHD screening. These tools have rating scales (scoring systems) that help the provider see if a person's symptoms and history match fit a diagnosis of ADHD. The provider will use these tools to:
- Interview the person about their symptoms. For children, questions and activities are geared toward their age. Parents are usually interviewed, too.
- Gather information from others. To make a diagnosis, it's necessary to know how the person acts during different activities and situations. So, the provider may request permission to ask others for information. These people may include:
- For children and teens: Teachers, babysitters, coaches, and other family members who spend time with the child. Parents may also complete checklists and/or questionnaires.
- For adults: Family members who know the person from childhood, and spouses, friends, and co-workers.
- Screen for other mental health disorders. People who have ADHD often have other mental health disorders. It's also possible that another disorder, and not ADHD, is causing symptoms. So, mental health screening tests are often done as needed to check for conditions such as, anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. Children and may also be tested for learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, or behavior disorders.
Will I need to do anything to prepare for ADHD screening?
You usually don't need any special preparations for ADHD screening. Your provider will let you know what health and school records you may need to gather.
Are there any risks to screening?
There is no risk to a physical exam, written test, or questionnaire.
What do the results mean?
The provider will usually write up the results of an ADHD screening in a report that includes a diagnosis. To diagnose ADHD, the screening must find all of these things:
- Several symptoms of ADHD that began before age 12.
- Several symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that have lasted for at least 6 months and cause serious problems. To be diagnosed with ADHD:
- Children up to age 16 must have at least 6 ongoing symptoms.
- People 17 and older must have at least 5 ongoing symptoms.
- Symptoms that happen in 2 or more settings, for example, at home and at work or school.
- Symptoms that clearly get in the way of functioning well at school, work, and/or in social situations.
- Symptoms aren't caused by another mental health disorder.
If there is a diagnosis of ADHD, the report will include the type of ADHD (inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, or combined). It will also say whether ADHD is mild, moderate, or severe. Any other disorders that may have been found will be included in the report.
There's no cure for ADHD, but treatment may help reduce symptoms. Treatment may include medicine, talk therapy, behavioral therapy, and lifestyle changes. Usually, two or more treatments are combined. Parents of children with ADHD may also receive training to help their children manage ADHD.
Learn more about laboratory tests, reference ranges, and understanding results.
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