Testing for Adult ADHD

How adult ADHD is diagnosed

Senior doctor explaining medical results
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If you are struggling with symptoms like inattention, being easily distracted and restless, and impulsivity, you might want to consider being tested for adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is often thought of as a childhood condition that is “outgrown” by the teenage years. However, ADHD can span a lifetime and may be something that was overlooked earlier on.

If left untreated, ADHD can cause difficulties in all areas of your life, including work, relationships, and beyond. Once you've been tested and know if ADHD is the problem, you can begin a course of treatment that will help make life more manageable.

Benefits of Testing

Some people wonder if they should get tested for ADHD once they become an adult. Here are five reasons why getting a formal diagnosis is helpful:

  • Being diagnosed with a condition means you can start treating it and getting relief from the symptoms. Treatment may include ADHD medication and learning ADHD-friendly life skills.
  • During the diagnosis process, other conditions might also be identified that might have been otherwise missed.
  • Many people feel a huge sense of relief when they are diagnosed with ADHD. They feel less guilt and shame about being different from their peers now that they have a name for why they are the way they are.
  • If you are a student, you are eligible for accommodations that will help you get the grades you are capable of. For example, you may be able to have a person in class with you to take notes for you and be allowed to take your exams in a quiet room. 
  • You could be eligible for accommodations at your place of work. These supports will help you in your job performance. Some possibilities are having a workspace in a quiet area so there are fewer distractions or a flexible time to start work (depending on the job).

    Diagnosis

    There is not a test, such as a blood test, to find out if you have ADHD. Instead, ADHD is diagnosed by a detailed comprehensive assessment done by a health professional. During the assessment, this person will determine if you meet the criteria for ADHD as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This is the official diagnostic guide used in the United States.

    Practitioners

    Typically, psychiatrists, psychologists, neurologists, and some family doctors can carry out evaluations. When you are making inquiries, ask specifically if the person has experience diagnosing adult ADHD.

    Online Tests

    ADHD cannot be diagnosed online. However, there are many ADHD quizzes and questionnaires available online that act as a helpful self-screening process. Taking a quiz can give you the confidence to reach out to a health professional for a formal diagnosis.

    Criteria for Adult ADHD

    The fifth edition of the DSM states that ADHD can be diagnosed if an adult meets the following criteria:

    1. The symptoms of ADHD have been present since childhood. You may not have been diagnosed as a child, but there must be evidence that you had problems with attention and self-control before you were 12 years old. The only exception to this is if you have suffered a brain injury or medical condition that resulted in ADHD symptoms.
    2. The symptoms are present in more than one setting. You currently experience significant problems with inattentive and/or hyperactivity-impulsive symptoms in two or more important settings. For example, at home and school, or home and work.
    3. The symptoms affect performance. Your symptoms reduce the quality of your social, academic, and/or job performance.
    4. There are five or more symptoms present. The DSM identifies 18 symptoms of ADHD. Nine are related to inattention, and nine are related to hyperactivity. After 17 years of age, if you have five of the symptoms listed, and they have been present for at least six months, then a diagnosis can be made.
    5. Other causes have been ruled out. Sometimes, ADHD-like symptoms are caused by another condition, like a bipolar disorder or a sleep disorder. Before accurately diagnosing ADHD, the doctor or clinician needs to rule out all other possible causes that could account for the ADHD-like symptoms. 

      The Assessment Process

      Though it varies, a typical assessment for adult ADHD may last about three hours. Every practitioner conducts the assessment in their own way, but you can expect to have an in-person interview about your development, health, family, and lifestyle history. If you have any school reports or other documents from childhood, it can be helpful to bring those with you to the interview.

      They will also likely ask to interview any close loved ones, such as a spouse, partner, family member, or anyone you have a close personal relationship with. Loved ones can often help fill in memory gaps and offer unique perspectives on their experiences with your ADHD symptoms.

      Questionnaires, rating scales, intellectual screenings, and measures of sustained attention and distractibility all may be part of the assessment. You may be asked to elaborate on things such as:

      • How often you do not follow a task or project to completion.
      • If you frequently misplace things.
      • How often you forget appointments or other important matters.
      • If you tend to fidget when sitting for long periods.
      • If you regularly have a hard time relaxing.
      • How often you are distracted by things around you.

      Your medical history is important. If you have not had a medical exam recently, one might be recommended to rule out medical causes for your symptoms.

      While psychological testing is not used as the sole basis for diagnosing ADHD, sometimes it may be recommended to support conclusions and provide a more comprehensive assessment. You may also be screened for learning disabilities.

      A Word From Verywell

      After you have been diagnosed with adult ADHD, you may feel a flood of emotions. Excitement and happiness are common in the first 24 hours because now you have a name for your struggles. After a few days, you might feel overwhelmed about what to do next. Don't feel rushed to make decisions about treatment; allow yourself a little time to process the new information before moving on to the next steps.

      Once you're ready, you can meet with your doctor to determine what course of treatment is best for you, which may include therapy, medication, and/or lifestyle changes.

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      View Article Sources
      • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Ed). Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. 
      • Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D. Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Handbook for Diagnosis and Treatment (Fourth Edition). The Guildford Press. New York. 2014.
      • Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). http://www.chadd.org/Understanding-ADHD/For-Adults/Diagnosis-of-ADHD.aspx