If you have not done so, I recommend reading 5 Signs Your Child May be ADHD before reading this article, if you are unsure what the symptoms for ADHD are in children.
If you believe that your child may be suffering from ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder,) there are steps you can take to ensure your child receives the proper diagnosis and services. This article will walk you through these steps.
1. The Coffee Test
This is a simple, inexpensive method of determining if your child has ADHD. For the record, I have never used this approach with small children, and it should not be used instead of psychological counseling or a medical diagnosis. However, I have found this highly effective with adolescents, (and helping as a treatment, which I will discuss in a different article).
Caffeine is a stimulant. People without ADHD often become more hyperactive after drinking coffee, (sometimes to the annoyance of their coworkers). However, due to differences in brain chemicals in people with ADHD, stimulants make them less hyperactive. Frequently, adolescents and adults will be calmer within an hour of drinking coffee. When I suspected an adolescent was ADHD, I asked him or her to drink a cup of black coffee, (no sugar,) and then observed their behavior. With rare exception, they are calmer, more able to focus, and more pleasant to be around. If you think coffee is safe for your child, try this one morning and pay attention to the effects.
2. Speaking with School Officials
Often, parents have already heard from teachers and principals due to the child being in trouble for not staying still or paying attention. However, it may be helpful to talk to school officials about their observations. These conversations will also help you determine if your child has similar symptoms in all environments, or specific environments. You may also hear that the child is better in certain classes or during the morning or afternoon. These can be important clues for professionals.
3. Visiting a Psychologist
A counselor gives a professional opinion of the child’s behaviors to determine if the child has ADHD or a different psychological disorder. This may become clear in the first session, but expect to have several visits. If you do not have the money or insurance to cover these expenses, schedule an appointment with the school counselor, who should be qualified to make a diagnosis and make suggestions about the next steps.
4. Getting Psychological Testing
Psychologists may suggest your child have psychological testing to determine the proper diagnosis, treatment, and educational services. In some cases, this may be as simple as questionnaires and interviews with school officials. In other cases, you may need to seek a psychological examiner. If a psychologist or doctor is willing to state that this is required for the child, insurance companies are more likely to cover the expense.
5. Visiting a Doctor
Counselors may recommend you visit a pediatrician, primary care physician (PCP), or psychiatrist. While psychiatrists specialize in mental health diagnosis and treatment, they are usually more expensive than a PCP is. Often, a PCP or pediatrician can diagnose frequent conditions, such as ADHD, and recommend a course of treatment. However, many PCPs will require the child participate in therapy, (at least temporarily,) while they receive medication, to maximize the effects of treatment.
If you are not familiar with diagnosing ADHD, it can be a daunting task. However, taking simple steps can make the process much easier. Hopefully, this article helped you understand the basics of diagnosing your child.
For more information, read Abnormal Child Psychology by Eric J. Mash and David A. Wolfe (2010) pages 118-150. You can also visit the Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.com) or the National Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov).