What is an ADHD Evaluation & How Do I Get One?

Who’s ever heard of ADHD?

Probably everybody right?

There is tons of information floating around the interwebs about what constitutes ADHD, how to know if you have it, and what you can do about it if you do.  Some information is researched while some is anecdotal.  But there is also just as much misinformation that can make it confusing to really understand.

We’ve all come across the “face” of ADHD: a hyperactive kid who can’t sit still or pay attention, constantly gets in trouble at home and school, and needs “proper” discipline.  While this is one presentation, consider some of these others:

  • A 15 year old high achieving male student who is failing classes because he has trouble turning in homework, needs constant reminders to get started, and takes a long time to finish tasks.
  • A 42 year old woman with 2 Master’s degrees who struggles remembering appointments and obligations, makes careless mistakes, has trouble staying organized, and zones out in the middle of conversation.

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by issues of inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity that interferes significantly with your ability to function.

Some of the hallmark symptoms include:

  • Trouble with focusing and concentration
  • Forgetfulness (i.e., “I forgot” or “I can’t remember”)
  • Being easily distracted
  • Fidgeting and trouble sitting still
  • Blurting out answers
  • Feeling “on the go”

Some people have become pros at masking or compensating for obvious difficulties of ADHD but at some point, their difficulties outweigh these coping strategies.  For people like this, ADHD might show up in the following ways:

  • Needing things repeated multiple times
  • Not finishing tasks
  • Poor self-care habits
  • Re-reading things several times
  • Daydreaming or zoning out
  • Trouble planning things out.

ADHD is not the result of laziness, lack of motivation, or lack of discipline.  Most people with ADHD are trying as hard as they can and are probably more frustrated with themselves that they aren’t able to pay attention or stop their behavior; and the best discipline and parenting in the world will not stop a child from being fidgety, impulsive, or not listening.

How do we diagnose ADHD?

In order to diagnose ADHD, we use the criteria set forth in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) and it includes several things.

  1. Establishing that you meet a certain number of symptoms of either inattention and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity.  For children, it is 6 or more of each symptom set.  For older adolescents and adults (17 and older), at least 5 of each symptom set is required.
  2. Symptom presentation (even the variations of symptoms like time management, procrastination, waiting until the last minute to do things, etc.) must have been present during childhood.
  3. Establishing symptom presentation in two or more settings.
  4. Showing clear evidence that symptoms impair functioning.  Impairment can be classified a number of ways including failing grades, poor academic or work performance, difficulty managing daily life, and major hindrances overall.
  5. Differentiating between ADHD and other mental health conditions that may mimic its presentation or have inattention or hyperactivity/impulsivity as a symptom.  Common disorders include anxiety, depression, and trauma.

What’s included in an ADHD evaluation?

A thorough clinical interview marks the beginning of an ADHD evaluation. This includes general background details about home and school but also extensive questions about what school and studying were like, how a person responded to redirection, driving history, etc.  It is also important to consider active ways that people have managed their difficulties prior to assessment.

A review of any relevant supporting documents is helpful in establishing childhood symptoms, impairment, and general daily functioning. These documents can include report cards, transcripts, previous evaluation reports, and teacher notes.

While not required, collateral information can be extremely helpful in helping establish symptom presentation and impairment as well. Sometimes others are better able to see the areas where we struggle than we can ourselves. Good collateral sources include parents, teachers, spouses, service providers like therapists and psychiatrists, and good friends who know you pretty well.

A comprehensive evaluation assesses several areas including cognitive ability and  executive functioning such as general attention, memory, and information processing along with social/emotional/behavioral functioning to rule out emotional disturbance.

Once you’ve finished the grunt work, you meet to discuss your results with your evaluator along with any recommendations and referral resources you might need to help you improve your life.

See, that doesn’t sound so scary right?

If you want to learn more about our ADHD evaluations at Magnolia Wellness & Psychology, check out our information and frequently asked questions on our website!