Who Can Diagnose ADHD?

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There are so many health professionals who can diagnose and treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that finding one can feel overwhelming and confusing. Before you start looking for a doctor or healthcare professional, be clear about your goals.

There are some important questions you should consider. Do you need an ADHD diagnosis? What type of treatment do you prefer? 

For example, are you looking for a professional who can prescribe medication, or for someone who can teach you or your child practical ways of coping with ADHD? Knowing your goals will help make your search easier. 

Professionals Who Diagnose ADHD

If you're concerned about whether you or your child might have ADHD, the first step is to talk with a healthcare provider. There are several types of professionals who can diagnose ADHD.

Physicians

Physicians are usually the first providers you'll contact regarding an ADHD diagnosis. All of the physicians on this list have either a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree, meaning that they attended medical school.

  • Psychiatrist: Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating mental disorders. They are typically knowledgeable about other conditions that can co-exist with ADHD, such as depression and anxiety disorders.
  • Pediatrician (general): Although qualified to diagnose ADHD in children, these physicians might not have the time to do an extensive evaluation.
  • Developmental pediatrician: While general pediatricians deal with all aspects of children's health, developmental pediatricians specialize in developmental and behavioral issues, such as ADHD, autism, and learning disorders. These specialists are an excellent source for an initial diagnosis for a child.
  • Family doctor: These physicians are qualified to diagnose ADHD; however, they may lack the extensive knowledge of more specialized professionals. Some may feel more comfortable referring you to other experts in their network.
  • Neurologist: A neurologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the brain and nervous system. A neurologist uses brain imaging and physiologic testing to find out if symptoms are due to ADHD or another medical condition in the brain.

Psychologists

A psychologist has an advanced degree in psychology such as Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). Psychologists have a doctorate degree and are addressed as "doctor," but they are not medical doctors.

State laws for licensing psychologists vary. But in most states, psychologists can diagnose ADHD and other mental health disorders, but most cannot prescribe medication.

Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are registered nurses who have earned master's or doctoral degrees in a specialty area of nursing. NPs with a specialty in psychiatry can evaluate and diagnose ADHD and other mental health conditions in children and adults. An NP can also prescribe medication.

Counselors

The term "counselor" covers a broad spectrum of professionals who have specialized training in particular types of therapy. Licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs) and licensed professional counselors (LPCs) are qualified to complete initial assessments and provide a diagnosis of ADHD, but some refer patients to a psychologist or psychiatrist for a more in-depth evaluation or to prescribe medication.

Professionals Who Treat ADHD

ADHD can be treated by any doctor who has continued their education on ADHD and mental health. However, only certain medical professionals can prescribe medication. These include physicians (including psychiatrists, pediatricians, family doctors, and neurologists) and nurse practitioners (NPs). Physician assistants (PAs) can also prescribe if they are working under the supervision of a physician.

In addition to these professionals, there are others you can go to for ADHD treatment. While they are not qualified to prescribe medications, these experts can provide other forms of treatment:

  • Psychologist: In addition to diagnosing ADHD, clinical psychologists are experts in providing psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and family therapy.
  • Occupational therapist: Occupational therapists are trained to address skills needed for a child to be able to function in their daily life, such as self-regulation, executive functioning, and interpersonal skills.
  • Speech and language pathologist: ADHD frequently co-occurs with language impairment. A speech-language pathologist can assess communication skills, develop an individualized treatment plan, and provide therapy to assist in achieving full potential in terms of language use and communication skills.
  • Behavior therapist: These mental health counselors can provide individual and group therapy to work on strategies to manage or change behavior.
  • Educational specialist: These specialists teach techniques for succeeding in school in addition to helping children obtain school accommodations. They may also teach organizational skills.

How to Choose the Right Specialist

Choosing the right professional to diagnose and treat your ADHD often begins with talking to your primary care physician. Your doctor may be able to diagnose you, refer you to other professionals in your area, or direct you to other resources that may help.

Find out who specializes in the treatment of ADHD in your area. Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) offers a directory of professionals who specialize in or have experience with the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. While it would be convenient to have one professional who meets all of your needs, more often, people require a small team of professionals. Each professional will give you the knowledge and the skills you need to excel.

There are a number of things you should look for when seeking a healthcare provider. Questions you should ask include:

  • How well do they communicate? The best mental health providers are well-trained, non-judgmental, and communicative. Your doctor or team should be able to answer your questions, discuss your concerns, and evaluate your needs.
  • Do they have experience? If you are an adult with ADHD, ask if they have experience with adult ADHD. If you are looking for a professional for your child, inquire about their experience with kids and ADHD in children
  • What is their treatment philosophy? Ask about their approach to treating ADHD to determine if they are a good match for your needs.
  • How much will it cost? Find out if the professional accepts your insurance and whether their services will be covered under your plan. If not, ask about whether they offer discounts for cash-paying patients or sliding scale fees.

If you have narrowed it down to a few experts and still can't decide, go with the one with whom you feel most comfortable. Having a good relationship with your doctor and health professional is beneficial for treating, managing, and living well with ADHD

Things to Consider

It is also important to know when to look for a different professional if your current doctor or health professional is not meeting your needs. For example, you should consider getting a second opinion if you feel like your doctor does not listen to your concerns about your symptoms, medications, or side effects.

You may also want to look for another professional if you feel like you are not being provided enough information about your treatment options or about the potential side effects of different ADHD medications.

A Word From Verywell

Finding the right professional to diagnose ADHD can help you get the treatment that is right for you or your child. You might start by talking to your primary care physician or child's pediatrician who can refer you to an ADHD professional in your area. Other options including calling a referral service or using an online search tool.

Treatment options can vary but may involve medications, therapy, or a combination of the two. A knowledgeable and experienced professional can help you figure out which approach works best for your needs.

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  1. Curatolo P, D'Agati E, Moavero R. The neurobiological basis of ADHD. Ital J Pediatr. 2010;36(1):79. doi:10.1186/1824-7288-36-79