The attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) screening test is an essential step in diagnosing the condition. Before treatment can begin, an individual needs a diagnosis. The condition, however, is challenging to diagnose.

ADHD is common, with doctors diagnosing almost 11% of children aged 5 to 17 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The condition also affects around 2.5% of adults, although doctors most frequently diagnose the condition in school-age children.

Hyperactivity, impulsivity, and an inability to focus are just some of the symptoms. Children may have difficulty sitting still and become easily distracted, while adults with ADHD may have trouble with their relationships, forgetfulness, and mood changes.

There is no single test that can show if an individual has ADHD. Doctors typically use a combination of physical exams, behavioral testing, and questionnaires.

Although it has no cure, treatment can reduce ADHD symptoms and help people with daily functioning. Keep reading to learn more about ADHD screening, including how to prepare, and what people can expect from the screening itself.

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Currently, there is no single test doctors can use to diagnose ADHD. Doctors typically use several steps for diagnosis.

The tests that make up the screening may vary depending on the age of the person. Young children, for example, will not have the exact same screening tests as adults.

One of the tests that doctors use is an ADHD rating scale. These scales are usually checklists or questionnaires that measure ADHD symptoms. The individual, another person close to them, or both, can answer these questions.

There are different scales that doctors use to diagnose children, including:

  • Behavior Assessment System for Children (BASC): This test identifies attention, hyperactivity, aggression, depression, and learning problems.
  • Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL): This scale explores the child’s behavioral problems.
  • Conners Rating Scales: These questions look for difficulties with thought processes and hyperactive or defiant behavior.
  • Vanderbilt Assessment Scale: This scale assesses ADHD symptoms and other conditions such as depression, conduct disorder, and oppositional-defiant disorder.

For adults, doctors may use:

  • Adult ADHD Clinical Diagnostic Scale (ACDS): This is an interview of 18 questions about ADHD symptoms.
  • Brown Attention-Deficit Disorder Symptom Assessment Scale (BADDS) for Adults: This is a set of 40 questions that look at attention, memory, and mood issues.

Some of these ADHD rating scales consist of only a few questions and only ask about symptoms that may indicate ADHD. Others may have more than 100 questions and may ask about a range of symptoms the individual experiences.

All that said, screening for ADHD remains complex, and experts are trying to find a more straightforward approach.

In 2017, a study reviewed the potential benefits of a new, streamlined test to diagnose adult ADHD. They found that the short test could detect the vast majority of ADHD cases in adults in the general population. However, this abbreviated test is not yet a diagnostic standard.

A doctor may recommend an ADHD screening if an adult or child has relevant symptoms, even if these appear to be mild. The symptoms can vary depending on the type of ADHD that someone has.

An individual may have symptoms of impulsivity, hyperactivity, or inattention.

Symptoms of impulsivity:

  • constant talking
  • interrupting others
  • risk-taking

Symptoms of hyperactivity:

  • fidgeting or squirming
  • forgetfulness
  • inability to complete tasks
  • continuously moving

Symptoms of inattention:

  • easily distracted
  • inability to focus
  • short attention span
  • poor organizational skills

Previously, doctors used the term attention deficit disorder (ADD) to describe inattentive individuals but were not hyperactive. However, in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association officially adopted the term “ADHD” for both adults and children.

It is important to consider that adults and children with ADHD may experience different symptoms. For example, children may appear extremely fidgety, whereas adults may have difficulty with relationships and episodes of depression.

If an individual has the symptoms, it does not necessarily mean they have ADHD. However, an ADHD screening can help someone determine if they have the condition, thereby allowing them to seek suitable treatment.

There are no specific or official guidelines as to the preparations for an ADHD screening. That said, a person undergoing the screening should make the doctor aware of any relevant medical history.

They may also wish to note down any questions they would like to ask during the visit. They should also be prepared to answer numerous questions, and be open about their symptoms to ensure accurate results and diagnosis.

Initially, a doctor may perform a physical exam, including vision and hearing screenings, to rule out any medical causes of any present symptoms. They will then interview the individual about their behavior, and may use a combination of other tests as well.

A doctor may use the following tests to screen for ADHD:

  • Interviews or questionnaires: If a doctor is screening a child, they may ask for input from people that the child is close to, including family members, teachers, and babysitters. This will enable them to form a picture of the child’s behavior, attitude, and sleep patterns.
  • Behavioral tests: These written tests attempt to compare the child’s behavior to other children in the same age group.
  • Psychological tests: Experts specifically designed these tests to measure how someone thinks and their level of intelligence. These tests will be appropriate for the age of the individual undergoing the ADHD screening.

A person may require several visits to enable doctors to make a full assessment and potentially diagnose them with ADHD.

People must work with a mental health professional who understands that other conditions may resemble ADHD. This will help rule out these conditions and make an accurate diagnosis.

Learn more about ADHD misdiagnosis here.

Doctors use the results from the rating scales to make an ADHD diagnosis. Based on the symptoms that someone has, doctors may diagnose them with one of three presentations of ADHD:

  • Predominantly Inattentive: If the individual has primarily had symptoms of inattention with few signs of hyperactivity-impulsivity during the past 6 months.
  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: If the individual has had primarily hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms, but not inattention, during the past 6 months.
  • Combined Presentation: The individual has had enough of both symptom types for the past 6 months.

Individuals should understand that because symptoms can evolve, the type of ADHD presentation may also change.

If an individual’s results show they have ADHD, they can then receive appropriate treatment. Depending on the individual’s age, treatment may include medication, behavioral therapy, and lifestyle changes.

People may need to try several different treatments combinations, and doses of medication, before finding one that works for them. If individuals have any questions about their medication or ADHD symptoms, they should talk with a healthcare professional.

ADHD screening helps doctors identify children or adults with ADHD.

There is no single test that doctors can use to diagnose ADHD. Instead, they use a combination of interviews and written tests to identify behaviors that are symptoms of ADHD.

ADHD screening is important because individuals can seek the correct treatment once they have a diagnosis. The correct combination of therapies lets an individual manage their symptoms and live without ADHD standing in their way.