ADHD seems to becoming more and more prevalent in young children and one of the questions we should be asking is, why?

Does it have to do with our modern lifestyles? Is it the quality of the food we are eating? Or perhaps it has something to do with the diagnosis of the disorder.

Is there a possibility that children are being incorrectly diagnosed with ADHD?

In this article, we talk about what it takes to accurately diagnose children with ADHD, and why an accurate diagnosis by the right medical professional is crucial.

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Diagnosing ADHD in Children

The first and most important thing to note is that ADHD is a complex disorder and diagnosing it accurately is not as simple as it may seem.

This is mostly because there are various other conditions that may resemble the symptoms of ADHD. Additionally, ADHD looks different in every single person who has it.

However, there are core indicators that can help a healthcare professional identify and diagnose ADHD in children:

  • Predominantly inattentive
  • Predominantly hyperactive and/or impulsive
  • Combined inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive

Generally speaking, a child shouldn’t be diagnosed with ADHD unless these core indicators start before the age of 12 and proceed to create significant issues at school and at home.

Due to the overlap of symptoms in conditions that resemble ADHD, young children who are suspected to have ADHD should see a specialist (sometimes more than one) for evaluation.

ADHD cannot be diagnosed with a physical test such as blood tests, MRI scans or X-rays. Instead, the specialist will use evaluation methods to gather relevant information about your child to determine if the criteria for ADHD are met.

The criteria according to the DSM include:

  • Symptoms are present in several settings including home, school, and casual social environments
  • Symptoms are not true to another mental condition
  • Symptoms are severe enough to interfere or hinder daily functioning
  • Several symptoms are present before the age of 12
Symptoms of Inattentive Type

Six or more symptoms of inattention must be present in children up to 16 years old. For those who are 17 years and older, a total of 5 or more of these symptoms must be present. In both groups, these symptoms must be present for at least 6 months to suggest a diagnosis of ADHD:

  • Has difficulty staying tuned into specific activities or tasks until they are complete
  • Often disregards details or makes careless mistakes
  • Dislikes or avoids long-term tasks
  • Difficulty organizing and staying organized
  • Appears not to listen when spoken to
  • Fails to complete tasks or follow through on instructions
  • Is easily distracted
  • Is forgetful
  • Often loses track of important items such as school items
Symptoms of Hyperactive/Impulsive Type
  • Cannot take part in leisure activities quietly
  • Frequent squirming or fidgeting
  • Ignores instructions to stay in one place (sitting at school desk or dinner table)
  • Excessive talking
  • Frequently interrupts conversation
  • Has trouble waiting their turn
  • Restlessness in situations where moving around is inappropriate
  • Blurts out answers before questions are finished being asked

Healthcare professionals will also be required to indicate severity when diagnosing someone with ADHD:

  • Mild – shown signs of minor impairment in functioning, while still having enough symptoms to meet the diagnostic criteria
  • Moderate – impairment in functioning is more significant
  • Severe – more symptoms are present than the minimum requirement for a diagnosis along with significant impairment of functioning

Why is an Accurate Diagnosis so Important?

The most important reason why an accurate diagnosis is important is because treatment for ADHD most often includes stimulant medication which can have serious side effects and can affect brain development, especially in young children who are not actually ADHD.

Click here to read more about treatment options for children with ADHD.

Symptoms of ADHD can negatively impact your child’s self-confidence and can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, frustration, or embarrassment. An accurate diagnosis can provide closure for you and your child and give you the opportunity to make changes to improve your little one’s quality of life.

With an official diagnosis, schools can be asked to make some special accommodations such as granting more time on tests or moving your child’s desk to a quieter area to aid concentration.

Who Should Diagnose Your Child with ADHD?

Although many parents take their children to a general practitioner for a diagnosis and prescription for ADHD medication, this is not the safest way to go about it.

Your family doctor should refer you and your child to the relevant mental health specialists who are experienced with diagnosing ADHD.

Consider taking your child to one of the following:

  • Psychiatrist
  • Psychologist
  • Psychotherapist
  • Neurologist
  • Paediatrician

To rule out other conditions that resemble ADHD, visit the following professionals:

  • Speech therapist
  • Cognitive behavioural therapist
  • Audiologists
  • Professionals who specialise in sensory processing disorder
  • Occupational therapists

Before making an appointment with a specialist, be sure to ask them about their experience in working with and diagnosing ADHD in children as well as what methods they use to diagnose and treat the condition.

Kay-Dee Educare Centre in Mowbray Cape Town

At Kay-Dee we understand the impact that ADHD has on the lives of children and their families. However, we passionately believe that getting an accurate diagnosis is crucial. There is much harm that can come from a rushed or inaccurate diagnosis.

Our programmes accommodate children with ADHD, and we aim to work closely with all parents of children with ADHD to ensure the best possible outcome for everyone.

Caring for children is our passion and we will do what it takes to help every child in our care to thrive.

To find out more, please feel free to contact us.