Although ADHD is characterized by its behavioral symptoms, it is, in fact, a neurodevelopmental disorder. According to DSM-V, it must have been present before age 12. Despite its popularity, it is in fact a rare disorder affecting less than 5% of children and 2.5% of adults. Diagnosing ADHD is not as straightforward as one would expect given its popularity in the media and current culture. It is a complex disorder and accurate diagnosis requires careful evaluation.
Simply put, difficulties with attention, memory, and executive problems are the most common sources of complaint for which evaluation is requested. Although such problems are frequently attributed to conditions such as ADHD, it must be recognized that deficits in these domains can be caused by other factors such as sleep difficulties, a medical condition (e.g., thyroid disorder, Huntington’s disease), mental health condition (e.g., depression, anxiety, among others), sedating medications and substances (e.g, sleep medications, benzodiazepines, marijuana), or neurological condition (e.g., traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, stroke, among others).
Regardless of origin, difficulties in these domains can lead an individual to remain unfocussed in the classroom, at work, or during leisure activities, to have difficulties following directions, forgetfulness, organizing or completing tasks, and distractibility.
A considerable amount of controversy exists regarding how best to determine whether an indivdual has ADHD. At our clinic, we feel that a comprehensive assessment combining traditional psychodiagnostic methods with neuropsychological testing is most optimal. In contrast to other forms of assessment a neuropsychological evaluation objectively measures domains such as attention, memory, and executive processes rather than relying solely on self-reported complaints. It also involves reviewing school, medical, and mental health records, and obtaining observations from multiple sources (e.g., parents, caregivers, teachers, spouses). Moreover, neuropsychological assessment breaks down areas of strength and difficulty for the individual and how they may be impacting on the individual’s life. The goal is to assist in clarifying diagnoses and determining whether medical (i.e., medication), behavioral, or school-based interventions will prove useful. For example, anxiety can often mimic some of the aspects of ADHD, including difficulties with attention, concentration, and fidgeting. It is important to know why attention problems exist because both psychological treatment and medications differ depending on the disorder. Further, an individual can suffer from more than one condition. Often individuals with ADHD have co-morbid learning, emotional (anger, anxiety), and behavioral problems. It is important to know whether these issues are due to ADHD or whether a second disorder is involved. If only the ADHD is treated then it is less likely that the other problems the individual faces will go away or be properly dealt with.
The impact of conditions, like ADHD, can be quite significant. Often social relationships suffer, academic performance is below expectations, and work related difficulties present. There is also a greater risk of developing addictions, other mental health conditions, and risk of accidental injury.
WHAT TYPES OF ADHD ASSESSMENT ARE AVAILABLE?
For children (6+) and adolescents we are flexible and can offer basic screenings to more advanced comprehensive assessments
For older adolescents and adults, ADHD evaluation is done in the context of a neuropsychological evaluation, given the problem of high false diagnosis rates, and the negative implications of a misdiagnosis.