Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic condition that tends to develop in childhood. Those with ADHD display impulsive behaviour and struggle to retain focus and concentration for even short periods of time. This can negatively impact academic performance and make it difficult to form and maintain relationships. Some children with ADHD will show improvement in their symptoms as they age, but this not the case for everyone. Although there is no cure for ADHD, early diagnosis and treatment to help manage symptoms can improve a child's quality of life and possibly their academic achievement. Here's an overview of the diagnostic assessment process and treatment approach for ADHD in children:
There is no single specific test used to diagnose ADHD. Instead, the diagnosis is made by conducting a multifaceted assessment and evaluating information from a range of sources. The assessment can take some time to complete depending on the complexities of the child's symptoms and will be carried out by a qualified healthcare professional, such as a child psychologist or psychiatrist.
The ADHD assessment is typically comprised of a clinical exam, information gathering and the use of rating scales. The goal of the clinical exam is to rule out other possible causes of the child's symptoms and will include a thorough physical exam and blood and urine samples. The information-gathering stage combines a detailed report on the child's symptoms with observational reports from third-party organisations, such as the child's school, and the family's medical history. There are a few different rating scales that can be used to get a deeper understanding of the child's psychosocial functioning and general behaviour. Rating scales may be completed by the child, parents or teachers and can provide valuable in-depth insights into the child's life and their ability to function within their community and society in general. Examples of the rating scales that may be utilised include the Vanderbilt Assessment Scale, which is a multi-question assessment that focuses on causality of symptoms and the Child Attention Profile, which is used by teachers and parents to track the prevalence of ADHD symptoms.
Treatment for ADHD in children may include the use of psychostimulant drugs to balance brain chemical levels, which can improve focus and reduce hyperactive behaviour. Additionally, behavioural therapy can be used to help children learn how to regulate their behaviour in certain situations, such as when in the classroom, and this type of therapy can also be employed to teach parents strategies for managing challenging behaviour. Psychotherapy may also be useful for symptom regulation, as it provides a safe space for children to talk and explore patterns of behaviour.
If you think your child would benefit from an ADHD assessment, ask your GP to make a referral to your local specialist clinic.