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Question

I think my child may have ADHD. How do I find out for sure?

Kristie E. N. Clarke, MD, MSCR, FAAP

Answer

​A frequent concern for parents is that ​behaviors seen in ​attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as being restless, constantly "on the go," forgetful, or easily distracted, are often common in all children.  Who hasn't wondered where 5-year-olds get all that energy?

The difference with ADHD is that the behaviors are more extreme than in most kids the same age, and they can cause significant problems for the child in school or as she tries to make friends. There are certain sets of symptoms that doctors ask about to see if kids have ADHD; the diagnosis also takes the child's age into account.

Where to Start

If you are concerned, a good first step is to talk to your child's teacher or another adult who frequently supervises your child. Ask if they have any concerns about your child's behavior ​and/or how she interacts with other kids. Then set up an appointment with your pediatrician. If your child does have ADHD, it should be looked into and treated in a timely manner. 

What to Expect at the Pediatrician

Your pediatrician will ask questions about your child's behavior, how she interacts with other kids and adults, and how she is doing in school. Bring along any information from your child's teachers or other adults. This information will be helpful, because ADHD causes problems in more than one environment (not just in school or just at home).

Age of Your Child

Age is also important. ADHD can be diagnosed in children as young as four. Symptoms need to be present before age 12, so if your daughter is a teenager your doctor will ask how long she has had symptoms.

Parent & Teacher Questionnaires

If needed, your pediatrician may give you written questionnaires to fill out, and may provide you with other forms to give to teachers or other adults that supervise your child away from home. The information on these forms can be very helpful to making the diagnosis.

Other Symptoms

During the evaluation, your pediatrician will also be looking for any symptoms that do not fit with ADHD. Sometimes other disorders, such as problems with moodlearning problems, or even trouble with sleep can have symptoms similar to ADHD. Or, kids who have ADHD may have one of these other problems, too.    

Outlook

While ADHD can be very difficult for children and their families, the good news is that it can be treated. If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, you and your pediatrician can form a treatment plan together.

Additional Information from HealthyChildren.org​

Kristie E. N. Clarke, MD, MSCR, FAAP

​Kristie E. N. Clarke, MD, MSCR, FAAP is a board-certified pediatrician and a Medical Epidemiologist in the Global Immunization Division of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She has research experience in childhood nutrition, adolescent reproductive health, and immunizations, and also participates in outbreak investigations and emergency responses. She enjoys running, gardening, martial arts, and traveling with her husband Kevin.​

Last Updated
10/15/2016
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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