How Long ADHD Screening Takes and What to Expect

Teenage boy distracted from reading

Russ Rohde / Getty Images

For many parents, making an appointment and getting a child tested for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be a major step that may create a flurry of feelings and questions. Learning more about what you need to do to prepare for a comprehensive ADHD assessment, how long it will take, what sort of information the health care provider might need, and what the testing involves can help to make the process easier for everyone involved.

ADHD Assessment

The term “testing” is often used when describing the process of diagnosing ADHD, but it is quite misleading. No medical test is currently available that can definitively determine whether or not someone has ADHD.

Testing for ADHD is actually a comprehensive assessment. This examination will involve a great deal of information gathering via a parent interview, child interview, and possibly educational and/or psychological testing, and a physical exam.

Once the medical professional evaluating your child and has all the necessary information, which they may gather from you, teachers, and your child—he or she will then make a judgment regarding the presence of ADHD.

There are actually several different assessments that may be performed to diagnose ADHD, and your pediatrician may recommend a combination of a few depending on your child.

How to Prepare for an ADHD Screening Appointment

Before the initial appointment, you may receive several behavior checklists and questionnaires to complete prior to your first meeting with the doctor. These forms will include general information about your child and family, as well as your child's developmental, medical, and behavioral history. Complete all necessary forms and bring them with you to the initial appointment.

You should also gather the following items to bring with you to the evaluation:

  • Your child's medical records, your contact information, and contact information for your child's pediatrician*
  • Names and contact information for teachers and any other adults involved in a supervisory role with your child, such as in after-school programs.* These individuals may also be asked to fill out forms, which you should bring with you if asked.
  • Any prior testing results such as IQ testing, achievement tests, personality assessments, and any previous ADHD evaluations, as well as the contact information for and names of the professionals who conducted them*
  • Report cards and notes from your child's school
  • Individualized education plans (IEPs), if applicable
  • Prep work you completed for your parent interview (see below)
  • Insurance information

*Note: You may be asked to provide your doctor with written consent to contact these individuals.

Components of an ADHD Screening

Expect the assessment to last at least two to three hours, or longer if your child also needs educational or psychological testing. The following are parts of a typical ADHD assessment.

Parent Interview

A major part of your child’s assessment is the parent interview, where the pediatrician will ask you about the ADHD symptoms your child is displaying and how they are affecting your child and home life. You may also be asked to fill out checklists and/or rating scales about your child's behavior, if you haven't already, or given additional ones that add to that intake information.

Ideally, both parents should be involved in completing these forms and in the interview itself. One way you can prepare for this interview is to think about and write down a list of your specific concerns regarding your child.

Potential Questions to Expect at Your Interview

  • When did these issues first begin?
  • How long have they been occurring?
  • When and where do these problems occur? (home, school, in the neighborhood or community, in after-school activities, with other peers, etc.)
  • Do these problems arise more often or to the degree that is beyond what you think is typical of other children the same age?

It is beneficial to have a conversation with your child's teacher and jot down any related observations he or she has as well.

Though your doctor will review any medical records you provide, she will also likely want to discuss your child's medical history with you. Though there are many things you may be asked about, some possible questions to prepare for include:

  • Is there a family history of any diagnosed behavior issues?
  • If your child has a chronic illness, how has it been managed?
  • Where there any challenges with the pregnancy?
  • Has your child ever had headaches, a head injury, or seizures? (Plus, specifics about any such cases.)
  • Does your child have a history of bed wetting or stool soiling?

It is also important for you to share with the doctor any family issues that may be affecting your child:

  • Has the family experienced any recent changes, such as a move, birth of a new baby, or graduation to a new school?
  • Is anyone in the family struggling with something, such as a health issue?
  • Has there been any family discord or chronic tension?
  • Has the family experienced any loss, such as the death of a pet?

Though the ADHD evaluation is due to the problems and frustrations your child is experiencing, be sure to also jot down a list of your child’s strengths. This list will help give the doctor a more well-rounded picture of your child.

Other issues may be going on that are more sensitive and difficult to talk about, or that you think are irrelevant. Don't be afraid to share anything. The person conducting the assessment is best equipped to determine what could be playing into your child's behavior.

Child Interview

In addition to meeting with you, the doctor will also meet with your child. She will ask about your child’s understanding of why he or she is visiting the doctor today, as well as his or her perceptions regarding the behavior concerns that led to this assessment.

This part of the interview serves as an informal evaluation of your child’s behavior and developmental skills. Children often behave differently in one-on-one situations that are new and unfamiliar. The doctor is well aware of this and realizes that symptoms may not be present during the interview at the level that is creating concerns for you and/or your child's school.

Educational and Psychological Testing

Educational testing (IQ and achievement) and psychological testing, while not used to diagnose ADHD, may indicate if there is concern regarding a specific learning disability or other emotional and/or developmental issue. If this is the case, the doctor will discuss this with you.

Physical Exam

A pediatric physical examination and neurodevelopmental screening of your child may also be performed to rule out any other medical conditions that may be producing the ADHD-like symptoms. Sometimes formal speech and language assessments are also recommended.

Next Steps After an ADHD Assessment

Once the comprehensive assessment is complete, your pediatrician will meet with you to discuss their findings and determine treatment options, which may include counseling, medication, behavioral training, and/or lifestyle changes.

A Word From Verywell

It is rare that any parent begins the assessment process without worry. Recognize that that feeling is 100 percent natural. While the outcome of an assessment may not end up being what you had hoped going into the process, remember that—if that's the case—you're one step closer to helping your child get the help he or she needs.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources