Struggling to focus and multitask. Forgetting little details, like names and dates. Feeling restless, anxious, and impulsive. These occurrences might not seem significant. But they could be a sign of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
ADHD is a surprisingly common condition – but most people think it only affects children, not adults. And that piece of misinformation leads many adults to go undiagnosed, living with ADHD and not even realizing it. Approximately 4 to 5 percent of adult Americans have ADHD, and the majority aren’t diagnosed or seeking treatment.
But you can get an ADHD diagnosis as an adult. And taking that step could help you begin to treat your condition and better your life as a whole. If you might be experiencing the symptoms of ADHD, here are the steps you need to take to get a diagnosis.
1. Go to the Doctor
Your very first step in seeking an ADHD diagnosis? Visit your doctor.
But before you schedule an appointment, you should ask if your doctor is comfortable assessing and recognizing ADHD.
As ADDitude Magazine explains, only a qualified medical professional should diagnose ADHD. This can be a physician, but it could also be another person with experience and qualifications. For example, a psychologist, psychiatrist, or even an advanced practice registered nurse (ARPN) can diagnose ADHD.
However, not all medical professionals receive training or education on diagnosing ADHD. There isn’t a particular certification that makes someone an ADHD expert. Some professionals do seek our additional training, but others do not.
That’s why it’s so important to ask your doctor or other medical professional if they’re comfortable diagnosing ADHD. Ask if they have experience doing so, and if they have any specialized training. Adult ADHD isn’t as common as ADHD in children, so you may need to find someone who has experience diagnosing those older than age 17.
2. Take an Assessment
Once you’ve found a doctor who can diagnose ADHD in adults, you’ll need to take an assessment. There are a few different ways medical professionals can test for ADHD, its symptoms, and other conditions that may be related to ADHD.
Generally, an ADHD assessment tries to identify patterns, symptoms, and areas of struggle in a patient’s daily life. These can help your doctor determine whether or not ADHD is the culprit.
An assessment can include any of the following tests, examinations, or interviews. The process usually involves a few different types of assessment to make a diagnosis.
This type of ADHD assessment will help a doctor determine if you have the “traditional” symptoms of ADHD. Using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), your doctor will assess you to see if you meet at least six of the nine symptoms for ADHD.
You’ll sit down with a medical professional to discuss your symptoms and challenges. You’ll be asked questions, discuss your family life and work performance, talk about your medical history, address general health, and try to paint a picture of your daily life for the doctor. Sometimes, you’ll be able to invite a spouse or friend to also share information about your symptoms.
Rating Scale Assessment
Using a rating scale, you’ll rate your symptoms in all kinds of different situations. Doctors use this assessment to understand how your symptoms compare to others in your age group. That helps the doctor rank the severity of your symptoms and challenges, and it can offer a broader understanding.
Your doctor may perform a physical exam to see if your ADHD symptoms might be caused by another condition. It’s a good way to ensure no other potential health concerns are overlooked, and it can also be helpful if your doctor may prescribe you medication once you get a diagnosis.
Once your assessment is complete, your doctor – or medical professional – will have a full picture of what’s causing your symptoms. From there, you can move forward.
3. Get an Official Diagnosis
After your assessments are complete, your doctor will be able to give you an official diagnosis.
If you’re diagnosed with ADHD, you’ll want to know which specific type you have. There are two types: the inattentive type and the hyperactive-impulsive type.
These two different types of ADHD are treated differently, which is why it’s important to understand which kind you’re affected by. If you have the inattentive type, you’ll want to focus on symptoms like a lack of focus, distraction, and organizational issues. If you have the hyperactive type, you’ll need to treat aspects like fidgeting, interrupting, and talking too much.
Your doctor could also diagnose you with a combination of both types. This will help determine the ADHD treatment options that work best for you.
4. Begin Treatment
After all of the testing and your official diagnosis, you’ll be able to begin seeking treatment. There are a number of different treatment options for adult ADHD, and it’s common to try out a few different treatment types to see what works best for you.
The following are commonly used treatment options for adults with ADHD.
There are two types of medications that are used to treat ADHD: stimulants and non-stimulants. Stimulants are a common first choice for treating ADHD. They allow you to increase your dosage slowly and can improve symptoms with limited side effects.
Non-stimulants work differently. If stimulants aren’t working for you, a non-stimulant may work well. It takes longer to kick in and adjust the dosage, but it can provide the same balance and reduce symptoms.
Seeing a therapist for regular therapy sessions can also be a great treatment option. Therapy can help you – and even your family members – understand how ADHD works and develop strategies to handle symptoms and challenges.
You can try cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches you how to control your thoughts and actions. This treatment option can help you combat life’s challenges. Or, you can give family counseling a try. This option teaches you and your loved ones how to better communicate, understand each other better, and see problematic problems.
Another option you can try is meeting with an ADHD coach. These professionals, who are experienced in working with individuals with ADHD, can teach you life skills for your condition. A coach can help you learn how to make plans, manage your time, and stay organized. This can be an approach similar to therapy that offers long-term coping strategies
Remember that it may take some time to find the right treatment for you. You may need to test different medications and doses, try a combination of medication and therapy, or learn and practice behavioral strategies every day. With time, you and your doctor will be able to find an option or combination that works for you.