Path to diagnosis

Finding your way to a diagnosis


One of the main issues preventing early ADHD diagnosis is the lack of a standardised plan of action at the national level in the health and education sectors. The journey from identification of ADHD symptoms to a formal diagnosis can take a long time. However, many adults with ADHD may remain un- or misdiagnosed, because ADHD is not as much recognised or because of other co-existing conditions that make a diagnosis more difficult. The way the symptoms of ADHD are visible also change with age, which may lead to missed diagnosis. The approach to diagnosing the condition can vary according to your local health authority and your specialist, so be sure to ask any questions you have.

Here is a small step-by-step plan for finding your way to a diagnosis at any age:

In children

If, as a parent or guardian, you suspect your child has the symptoms of ADHD, start by visiting the child’s GP. If the doctor has experience with ADHD, he or she can make the diagnosis and develop a plan. If he or she does not, it is vital to be referred to a specialist, a psychiatrist or paediatrician with broad knowledge of ADHD who can do all the necessary testing to reach a diagnosis. Your doctor should be able to refer you to someone in your area.

If a SENCO or teacher thinks a child is showing symptoms of ADHD, the school counselling team should sit down with the parents or guardian (and possibly the child depending on his or her age) and request consent from the family to submit a report to the paediatrician. The paediatrician will then perform the necessary tests or help the family find a specialist.

In adolescents

An adolescent can see their GP, who can refer the adolescent to an ADHD specialist. As a parent or guardian, be sure to help the adolescent get organised and write down his or her symptoms and those noticed by his or her family members and teachers. This will help the doctor get to know the teen’s history.

Have the adolescent participate in finding a doctor, explaining his or her symptoms, and talking with the doctor either alone or with you in the room. This will give the teen confidence to be his or her own advocate and to be part of the plan for treatment if there is an ADHD diagnosis.

In adults

As an adult, the possibility of ADHD may have been suggested to you by a friend, colleague, or family member, or you may have noticed symptoms yourself.  Some adults only become aware of their own ADHD symptoms and seek diagnosis after their child or relative is diagnosed. For a lot of adults, the struggle to obtain a diagnosis is a key challenge. A survey of 30 adults with ADHD in England showed that there is often poor awareness of adult ADHD among healthcare professionals.

The first step is to visit your GP, who will refer you to an ADHD specialist or psychiatrist if appropriate. Find someone you are comfortable speaking with and who has experience with ADHD in adults. Bring a friend or family member to be an extra set of ears. Be honest and open, so you can be sure you have given all the information the specialist needs to give you the proper evaluation and make a plan if you have ADHD.

ADHD does not have an age limit and is not a disease that you grow out of when you reach adulthood. Therefore, the transition from child to adult care becomes very important. Data from the UK shows, however, that in some cases during this crucial period only a small number of people with ADHD are successfully referred to an adult specialist.