How to Diagnose ADHD (ADD)

Often it is a child's teacher who is the first person to suspect that a child has ADHD, especially if he or she is hyperactive and often disrupts class. However, parents may notice signs of ADHD before the child begins school. These signs may include problems with social skills and disruptive behaviour. If you or your child’s teacher suspect your child might have ADHD, your child should be assessed by a medical doctor or a doctor of psychology. Often a medical doctor will send your child to a psychologist for a diagnosis of ADHD as it is rather complex, and ADHD is often not the only issue. Almost 50% of children with ADHD also have a learning disability and require a psychoeducational assessment. Psychoeducational assessments need to be completed by a registered or licensed psychologist.

What is ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)? 
ADHD is very common. It is estimated that between 5% and 12% of children in the general population have ADHD. For this reason, a medical doctor or psychologist will consider ADHD when they see a child who:
  • is doing poorly or failing at school
  • disrupts class
  • cannot sit still or is hyperactive
  • acts without thinking
  • does not pay attention or does not seem to listen
  • cannot concentrate
  • daydreams
  • has problems with friendships and other social relationships
  • has low self-esteem
If your child has signs or symptoms that make your child's medical doctor suspect your child has ADHD, he or she will do a thorough assessment. In Canada we have specific recommendations as to what that assessment will consist of, and it is more than a simple checklist or screening form. ADHD is not always easy to diagnose, for several reasons:
  • The symptoms of ADHD are inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity, but it is normal for all children to be restless, impulsive, or inattentive sometimes.
  • There is no one specific test for ADHD.
  • Children behave differently in different settings and with different people.
  • The symptoms of ADHD look different in different children, in boys and girls, and at different ages.
  • Children with only symptoms of inattention are often overlooked.
For these reasons, the  medical doctor will need as much information as possible from you, your child, your child's teacher, and other caregivers. It may take some time to figure out whether your child really has ADHD or another disorder (see below). Once the medical doctor knows what is happening with your child, he or she will sit down with you and explain the diagnosis and together you will develop a treatment plan. Often this process involves or is directed by a child psychologist who is familiar with child behaviour issues as well as education regulations and expectations.

Why isn't there an easy test for ADHD?
Children mature at different rates and have different personalities, temperaments, and energy levels. Most children get distracted, act impulsively, and struggle to concentrate at one time or another. Sometimes, these normal factors may be mistaken for ADHD. ADHD symptoms usually appear early in life, often between the ages of 3 and 6, and because symptoms vary from person to person, the disorder can be hard to diagnose. 
For more information on the suggested guidelines in Canada for diagnosing ADHD see this webpage:

For information on my services for ADHD, including diagnosis, psychoeducational  assessments or treatment please visit my web page at or