How is ADHD Assessed?
Authorities recommend that a diagnosis of ADHD should include three elements: (1) a medical examination, (2) a clinical interview or history, and (3) the administration of teacher and parent rating scales (Barkley, 1998). In the case of older children or adults, the psychiatrist or psychologist may also administer a self-report type of rating scale.
The medical exam can help rule out any physical reasons for the inattentive and/ or hyperactive-impulsive behavior, such as thyroid problems or brain tumors. The physician can determine whether the child's behavioral problems are due to a seizure disorder, such as epilepsy. Environmental factors, such as lead poisoning, can also be considered.
The physician can also determine whether the patient has other conditions that would make it unwise to prescribe certain medications to help control the inattention or hyperactivity. For example, high blood pressure, cardiac problems, or asthma might influence what kind of medication the doctor would prescribe for the child. And if the child has tics, the physician might be more careful in using certain medications, because there is suggestive evidence that commonly used medications for ADHD might make the tics worsen. Tics are repetitive motor movements that are sometimes accompanied by multiple vocal grunts or outbursts. Severe tics are one of the major symptoms of someone who has Tourette's syndrome. There is a high incidence of ADHD in individuals diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome.
The clinical interview, or history of the child and parent(s), is important because it can be used ,to gather information on the child, the parents, and any siblings. The clinician can obtain a picture of the dynamics of the family and the major symptoms that all the family members see as most problematic.
Even though the interview is important, we need to recognize that it is somewhat subjective. For example, some children with ADHD can appear very attentive when in a structured and novel setting. In fact, researchers have discovered what has been referred to as a doctor's office effect, whereby children can be focused in the physician's office but just the opposite at home and school (Cantwell, 1979; Sleator & Ullman, 1981).
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