The diagnosis of ADHD should only be done by a licensed clinician and that clinician should have one goal in mind: to plan a safe and effective course of evidenced-based treatment. The infographic below gives a summary of this diagnostic approach over time, which my colleagues and I prepared for our “Primer” about ADHD, referenced below.
A key point that parents of ADHD youth and adults with ADHD should keep in mind is that there is only one way to diagnose ADHD. An expert clinician must document the criteria for the disorder as specified by either the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, which is now in its fifth edition (DSM-5) or the World Health Organizations International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10). The two sets of criteria are nearly identical. These criteria are most commonly applied by a clinician asking questions of the parent (for children) and/or patient (for adolescents and adults). For children, information from the teacher can be useful. Some clinicians get this information by having the parent ask the teacher to fill out a rating scale. This information can be very useful if it is available.
When diagnosing adults, it is also useful to collect information from a significant other which can be a parent for young adults or a spouse for older adults. But when such informants are not available, diagnosing ADHD based on the patient’s self-report is valid. As the infographic indicates, any diagnosis of ADHD should also assess for comorbid psychiatric disorders as these have implications for which ADHD medications will be safe and effective. And because a prior history of cardiovascular disease or seizures frequently contraindicate stimulants, these must also be assessed.
Faraone, S. V. et al. (2015) Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder Nat. Rev. Dis. Primers doi:10.1038/nrdp.2015.20 ; http://rdcu.be/gYyV