(BlackDoctor.org) — When Black parents see their child displaying typical hyperactive behavior, such as running around constantly and performing poorly at school, they may be concerned that the cause is ADHD — attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — and want a diagnosis. But be prepared: An ADHD diagnosis does not always come easily and you certainly need to visit a doctor you can trust.
ADHD Diagnosis: Possible Practitioners
To get a diagnosis of ADHD, many families begin by talking with their pediatrician or family physician. Often this doctor will want the family to see a health care professional who has special training in ADHD.
There are different kinds of health care professionals trained to work with children with ADHD, including:
• Psychiatrists. A psychiatrist must have a medical degree and can prescribe medication if needed. Psychiatrists can also offer other therapy, such as counseling for the family and child.
• Psychologists. A child psychologist can also diagnose ADHD and treat it with supportive emotional therapy for the child and the family. Psychologists do not have medical degrees, so they need to work with a psychiatrist to have medicine prescribed, if it is necessary.
• Neurologists. These doctors can provide a diagnosis of ADHD and prescribe medicine, but most often will not be the health care provider who provides therapy.
• Clinical social workers. Social workers are not physicians, but they are well trained in providing an ADHD diagnosis as well as in family and child therapy. They, too, have to work with a physician to have any necessary medication prescribed.
No matter which kind of expert you or your family physician chooses to work with, ask if he or she has extensive training and experience in working with children who have ADHD.
ADHD Diagnosis: What to Expect
The expert will begin by interviewing you and your child to learn about the symptoms you are seeing at home.
“I believe it’s important to start by talking to the child,” says Edward M. Hallowell, MD, director of the Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health in Sudbury, Mass. “You and your expert can get a lot of information just by listening to what your child says.”
Also, ADHD-like symptoms can be caused by a major change in your child’s life, like divorce, a baby being born, or the death of a family member. So you’ll likely be asked about any big changes at home.
Your child will also receive a thorough physical examination and previous medical records will be reviewed. “It’s important to make sure that a different medical condition isn’t causing the symptoms, for example a learning disability, anxiety, or other behavioral disorder or mental illness,” Jon Shaw, MD, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
ADHD Diagnosis: Gathering Information
Because there is no single test that can be done to provide a diagnosis of ADHD, your child’s assessment will include a series of evaluations by you, your child’s teachers, and your expert.
To start with, your expert will ask you to fill out a symptoms checklist. This helps the physician or other healthcare professional find out how often your child’s symptoms arise and how severe they are.
Your child’s teachers will be asked to fill out various evaluations and questionnaires, called behavior rating scales, specifically designed to detect whether ADHD is the source of the symptoms. There may also be evaluations of your child’s overall mental health and ability to adjust to different social situations. If there is concern that your child has a learning disorder, intelligence and learning achievement testing may be performed as well.
After all of the necessary information has been collected, your doctor will review it carefully, looking for specific signs that point definitively to a diagnosis of ADHD according to accepted, standardized criteria.
Once a clear diagnosis of ADHD has been made, your doctor can begin to work with you and your child toward an effective treatment that will help alleviate ADHD symptoms.