What Is ADHD?

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and has three different subtypes. The Inattentive subtype is characterized by symptoms of being easily distracted, difficulty sustaining attention, issues with organization and follow-through, and a tendency to be forgetful to name just a few. The hyperactive subtype is diagnosed for those people who are restless, fidgety, struggle to sit still and do things quietly, talk excessively, and always seem to be on the move. Lastly, there is a combined subtype, which is diagnosed for those people with both inattentive and hyperactive symptoms.

What Other Mental Health Issues Present Like ADHD?

Part of the problem with ADHD is that so many other mental health issues share overlapping symptoms with ADHD. Consequently, ADHD has historically been very over-diagnosed and misdiagnosed. For instance, in childhood, some children might have an oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) or conduct disorder who appear to be “out of control” and get diagnosed as hyperactive type ADHD, when in fact they are wrestling with behavioral problems. Many anxiety disorders share some of the hyperactive symptoms, when in fact what people are dealing with is feeling wound up, nervous, or having low-level anxiety attacks. Likewise, depression can often mimic inattentive ADHD as many people with depression find their drive, ambition, and motivation down, are struggling to focus, and cannot get much done. Bipolar depression can present as a combined type of ADHD as people cycle through depression phases and manic phases. Additionally, substance abuse can often look like ADHD. People abusing stimulants such as meth or cocaine often appear hyperactive and those abusing downers such as opiates, alcohol, or marijuana can appear to be inattentive. This is just one thing that makes diagnosing ADHD so difficult.

How Do You Diagnose ADHD?

There is some debate among medical and psychological professionals on how in-depth a clinician needs to be when diagnosing ADHD. We have worked with many clients over the years who recall being given a 15-item questionnaire that took five minutes to complete and was then diagnosed with ADHD and given medications and treatment for it. Most of the research will tell you that the gold standard for diagnosing ADHD is to perform some sort of cognitive testing, which we talk about next, to avoid misdiagnosis. A thorough history is important to obtain to assess all the mental health and substance abuse issues we talked about above. One of the other important factors when diagnosing ADHD is to realize that symptoms need to be present before age 12. ADHD is not something people get at age 23 or 46. If a person has ADHD, they have usually had it their whole life. This can be where simple questionnaires that look at a snapshot of today’s symptoms can end up in misdiagnosis.

What Is Involved in ADHD Testing?

Different psychologists use different psychological testing instruments for different age groups. Most will use tests designed specifically to evaluate for ADHD such as the Conner’s or TOVA to name a few. Many also use cognitive testing designed to measure different components of brain functioning such as working memory and processing speed. People who have ADHD tend to score on these tests in particular ways that psychologists are looking for, which lends support for a diagnosis of ADHD. Most psychologists will do around 2-3 hours of testing in addition to a thorough history and intake. Many will also seek supporting information from family, teachers, or coworkers to get a sense of how others are experiencing the person. After the psychologist scores all the tests, they have the client back for a feedback session where they will review the findings with them. Keep in mind that is certainly possible to have both ADHD and other mental health issue such as depression or anxiety. The testing helps differentiate some of these other issues and determine if there is enough left over to suggest whether a person also has ADHD. These are just some of the reasons why it is important to get tested when exploring ADHD.

If you are interested in talking with one of our psychologists about concerns you have regarding possible ADHD and exploring ADHD testing, please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete a thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.

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