What Is An ADHD Assessment?

Reviewed by Lauren Guilbeault

Published 01/07/2021

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is an increasingly prevalent disorder that has most commonly been associated with early childhood development and academic struggle. Like many disorders, it is often misunderstood, including how it is evaluated for and eventually diagnosed. Consequently, undergoing an ADHD evaluation can be a difficult or frightening prospect. If you, your child, or a loved one are considering testing for ADHD, or you have an upcoming ADHD screening, take heart: the process is a simple one, designed to identify your needs to provide you or your loved one with the support assistance you need.

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What Is An ADHD Assessment?

The question of "How to get tested for ADHD" is a common one. Without a clear picture of the diagnosis process, getting started can be foreign or overwhelming. My basic knowledge of the process can help alleviate some confusion and concern. To that end: a test for ADHD is an assessment designed to determine whether or not someone displays ADHD symptoms. Like all other professional assessments completed by a medical professional or mental health professional, an assessment aims to identify the symptoms an individual is displaying, identify possible patterns and sources for those symptoms, and determine what the disorder or issue behind the symptoms and patterns is. ADHD assessments are no different. Individuals will be asked for a detailed history, will be asked to describe signs and symptoms and their duration, and may undergo a period of observation while completing tasks that could readily point to a particular disorder or other concern.

Who Completes An ADHD Assessment? How To Test For ADHD

There are a number of professionals capable of completing an ADHD assessment. However, these people's exact scope and ability will vary somewhat, and the exact individual enlisted will usually depend on the age and severity of the person afflicted. Typically, in childhood, assessments are completed by early childhood specialists and educators—often with a greater emphasis on educators. This is large because ADHD is often considered a learning disability or a disability that does not significantly impair a child until entering a classroom setting. Many parents would disagree, as a child who seems incapable of sitting still or focusing can be problematic far before school age. Still, many pediatricians—leery of over-diagnosing and overmedicating—will not thoroughly evaluate children who are not yet of school age. Many schools also have qualified psychologists or therapists who can evaluate students for ADHD.

In adulthood, ADHD assessments are almost exclusively completed by family physicians or specialists, such as psychologists. Without the academic intervention so common to childhood ADHD, adults are typically left to seek out evaluation and diagnosis independently. Primary care physicians might be qualified to conduct an ADHD screening test or refer their patients to a psychologist or other mental health professional who is more thoroughly equipped to recognize and diagnose ADHD and similar conditions.

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When seeking out ADHD testing, be sure to find someone certified and capable of making a diagnosis. A Family Nurse Practitioner, for instance, may not be able to diagnose ADHD, and a school psychologist may not have the necessary credentials to offer a diagnosis that will hold up in a medical file. Different states and licensing boards have different requirements, making an accurate or reliable diagnosis an important piece of the puzzle to research and evaluate.

ADHD Assessments In Childhood

A wide-ranging number of individuals can complete ADHD assessments in childhood. Although ADHD is most commonly identified and assessed when children have reached school age, they could be completed sooner by neurodevelopmental professionals, early intervention specialists, or other professionals who work with young children. Typically, ADHD assessments come on the heels of a parent, educator, or authority figure who has noticed that a child is not progressing or developing in an anticipated way.

Prior to entering school, children are most likely to be assessed by an early intervention specialist, pediatrician, or family doctor—though even these may be rare. Early childhood ADHD symptoms can mimic symptoms of other disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, speech delays, and developmental delays, all of which are more likely to be diagnosed before ADHD.

ADHD Assessments In Adulthood

ADHD assessments in adulthood differ from those completed in childhood, primarily because ADHD assessments in childhood typically involve educators. An educator is far less likely to be involved in adulthood, though a college counselor or other secondary school professional could be a source of possible ADHD identification. Typically, ADHD assessment in adulthood will come on the heels of professional distress, personal relationship issues, or a general feeling of mental malaise, all of which can be caused by ADHD in adulthood. Adult ADHD assessment may not be common, but it is available in most cities nationwide.

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As an adult, receiving a test for ADHD typically means seeking out an assessment through a mental health professional, such as a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. A person may come to a therapist with another issue entirely and gradually uncover the possibility of ADHD, or an adult may intentionally seek out more information about and a subsequent assessment for ADHD. In either case, a practitioner will likely take a detailed family and personal health history, ask targeted questions about symptoms, and decide from there. Typically, adult assessments will not involve a great deal of observation—or any observation at all.

There may also be fewer therapy options available for adults, such as occupational therapy, and practitioners may be more likely to recommend an immediate plan for pharmaceutical intervention. This is largely due to adults' likelihood to need immediate assistance or immediate relief, while children may have more time to work through symptoms. Adults may also be advised to implement lifestyle and dietary changes to aid in symptom management. Some dietary changes and lifestyle shifts have been shown to improve symptoms and speed overall management. Adult ADHD screening is no less valuable than childhood ADHD screening, despite the frequent disparity in available services: both provide valuable information to individuals exhibiting symptoms and make a path for assistance and services.

Testing For ADHD Online

ADHD online tests can be a useful tool for people seeking more information about ADHD signs and symptoms. A simple online ADHD test can be found here. Although there are many online tests, not all of them are created equal. None of them are intended to be used as the sole source of evaluation; instead, online ADHD tests are designed to conduct a simple self-evaluation to pursue a more aggressive course of action, if necessary. For instance, if you can take an online exam and receive highly suggestive results of having ADHD symptoms, you can then turn to an evaluation source (a psychologist, academic counselor, or primary care physician) to receive a more thorough and involved assessment. These assessments are necessary to begin receiving services or a prescription for ADHD medication.

One of the most important parts of taking an ADHD test online is honesty. When answering questions, participants must answer questions honestly, rather than trying to sway results. Hoping for a diagnosis to explain difficulties could unintentionally cloud results, as could fearing an ADHD diagnosis. Answering questions as objectively as possible and being as honest as possible about your personal experiences is essential to providing an ADHD assessment that delivers reliable, accurate information.

ADHD Assessments: What To Expect

Stepping into an unknown situation can be a source of stress and fear, but an ADHD assessment need not be either; instead, an ADHD assessment can be a source of excitement, as it can either answer questions about behaviors that may have been troubling or can be another possibility checked off in a search for the source of struggle or difficulty. While any medical or mental evaluation can bring about anxiety, the purpose of an ADHD assessment is not to intimidate, embarrass, or shame. An ADHD assessment aims to shine a light on symptoms and areas of difficulty to most effectively and accurately propose a solution. Both adults and children who have been exhibiting ADHD symptoms can benefit from having a definitive diagnosis. A diagnosis can pave the way for services, whether through school-led interventions, therapies outside of academic settings, or medications designed to ease symptoms.

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Asking for resources from your child's educators can be an effective step in securing an ADHD assessment, as you can go to the computer and type in "ADHD testing near me." Assessment is not the same as diagnosis, though, and the process can take some time—particularly if the person in question is a child going through the school system to be evaluated. Whether the ADHD evaluation takes a single visit to a psychologist, or a month of observation and screening, securing a diagnosis following an ADHD assessment opens up a world of opportunities to help manage symptoms and set yourself or your child up for success.