Getting an evaluation is the first step on the path to understanding and managing ADHD. But, for those unfamiliar with the disorder, it can be overwhelming to undergo the evaluation without knowing what to expect.

So, what is ADHD evaluation like? For the purposes of this article, I will be discussing a medical diagnosis of ADHD. ADHD is not one of the 14 IDEA eligibility categories like autism is.

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Autism is a condition where there is a difference between medical and educational diagnoses. ADHD is not. Schools cannot diagnose medical conditions; they find a child eligible for one of the eligibility categories.

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If a child has a medical diagnosis of ADHD, you could share that with the evaluation team at your child’s school. ADHD, on an IEP, is often the OHI category or Other Health Impairments.

An ADHD evaluation involves talking to experts, observing behavior, and completing questionnaires. It helps understand if someone has ADHD by ruling out other issues and it can guide your plan and strategies for ongoing supports.

Whether you’re considering an evaluation for yourself or someone you care about, keep reading. Hopefully, we’ll answer all your questions about what happens during an ADHD evaluation and explain the steps involved. 

I asked parents who have kids with ADHD, as well as some adults with ADHD, what they experienced during their process.

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Adults with ADHD

Since being immersed in this community for almost 2 decades, I have come across many undiagnosed adults. I once met a man who, for his entire adult life, could not hold onto a job for more than 2 years. He’d start a job and go through training and the introductory period.

Then, after about a year, he’d start making mistakes. He did not recognize that these mistakes were all related to gaps in executive functioning skills. No one had ever suggested that he might have ADHD, nor was he familiar with the term executive functioning.

Meanwhile, he was making big mistakes at his jobs that would eventually lead to job termination. Lather, rinse, repeat….until one of their kids was diagnosed.

I was also diagnosed late in life. And as such, it’s a lot of backpedaling and relearning that I have to do as a person. For example, I lied frequently as a child, and was labeled as a bad person because of it.

This was a heavy burden to carry because I knew in my heart that I was a good person. Lying is often a self-preservation technique for kids with ADHD and anxiety. I know that now.

There are other, more subtle signs of ADHD.

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Lesser Known Signs of ADHD

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) can manifest in various ways, and while many people are familiar with common symptoms like difficulty focusing, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, there are also lesser-known signs. It’s important to note that individuals with ADHD may not exhibit all of these signs, and the severity of symptoms can vary. Here are some lesser-known signs of ADHD:

  1. Hyperfocus: While difficulty focusing is a well-known symptom, some individuals with ADHD experience hyperfocus, where they become deeply engrossed in a task and may lose track of time.
  2. Difficulty with Transitions: Transitioning from one task or activity to another can be challenging for people with ADHD. They may struggle with changing focus or adapting to new situations.
  3. Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD): Individuals with ADHD may be particularly sensitive to perceived criticism or rejection, leading to intense emotional reactions.
  4. Impaired Working Memory: ADHD can affect working memory, making it challenging to hold and manipulate information in the mind over short periods. This can impact tasks like following multi-step directions.
  5. Time Blindness: Difficulty perceiving and managing time is common in individuals with ADHD. They may struggle with estimating how much time has passed or how long a task will take.
  6. Sleep Disorders: Both autism and ADHD are associated with sleep disorders.
  7. Procrastination: Chronic procrastination can be a sign of ADHD, as individuals may struggle to initiate tasks or have difficulty organizing their time effectively.
  8. Inconsistent Performance: People with ADHD may experience variations in their performance, with some days being highly productive and others marked by challenges in concentration and focus.
  9. Impaired Executive Functioning: Executive functions, such as planning, organizing, and prioritizing tasks, can be compromised in individuals with ADHD, leading to difficulties in daily activities.
  10. Difficulty with Self-regulation: Emotional regulation can be challenging for individuals with ADHD. They may have difficulty controlling emotional reactions and may be more prone to mood swings.
  11. Sensory Sensitivities: Some individuals with ADHD may be sensitive to stimuli such as lights, sounds, or textures, which can affect their ability to concentrate or feel comfortable in certain environments.

It’s important to note that everyone is unique, and these signs can vary among individuals.

A man with ADHD, sleeping on a desk next to a laptop and a cup of coffee.
ADHD can affect your sleep patterns.

What Does It Mean to Get an ADHD Evaluation?

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is typically diagnosed through a comprehensive evaluation that involves gathering information from various sources to assess symptoms, behaviors, and overall functioning.

The process is usually carried out by healthcare professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, or other specialized clinicians. 

Once all relevant information is gathered, the healthcare professional considers whether the symptoms align with the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). 

Who can diagnose ADHD?

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is typically diagnosed by qualified healthcare professionals. The process usually involves a comprehensive assessment that may include:

  1. Clinical Interviews: Healthcare professionals, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, or pediatricians, often conduct interviews with the individual being assessed and gather information from parents, teachers, or other relevant individuals.
  2. Behavioral Observations: Observing the individual’s behavior in various settings, such as at home and at school, can provide valuable insights into their attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.
  3. Rating Scales and Questionnaires: Standardized rating scales and questionnaires, completed by the individual, their parents, teachers, and sometimes others who know them well, are commonly used to assess ADHD symptoms.
  4. Medical Examination: A medical examination may be conducted to rule out other medical conditions that could be contributing to the symptoms.
  5. Educational Assessment: In the case of children, an educational assessment may be conducted to evaluate academic performance and identify any learning difficulties.
  6. Review of Medical and Family History: A thorough review of the individual’s medical and family history is important to understand any genetic or environmental factors that may contribute to ADHD.

It’s important to note that the diagnostic process should be carried out by trained professionals with experience in ADHD diagnosis. This may include psychiatrists, psychologists, pediatricians, or other healthcare providers with expertise in mental health. It is not recommended for individuals to self-diagnose or rely solely on online assessments.

Conditions that Look Like ADHD but are not ADHD

Several conditions can present with symptoms that may resemble ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). It’s important for healthcare professionals to conduct a thorough assessment to rule out other potential causes. Some conditions that may mimic ADHD symptoms include:

  1. Learning Disabilities: Conditions such as dyslexia or specific learning disorders can impact academic performance and attention but are not synonymous with ADHD.
  2. Anxiety Disorders: Anxiety can lead to restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and impulsivity, which may be mistaken for ADHD symptoms.
  3. Depression: Individuals with depression may experience fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and a lack of interest in activities, which can be mistaken for symptoms of inattention.
  4. Sleep Disorders: Insufficient or poor-quality sleep can lead to difficulties with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
  5. Sensory Processing Disorders: Sensory issues may result in distractibility and hyperactivity, but they are distinct from ADHD.
  6. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Some individuals with ASD may exhibit behaviors that overlap with ADHD symptoms, such as difficulties with social interaction and repetitive behaviors.
  7. Giftedness: Highly gifted individuals may display characteristics such as hyperfocus on specific interests or restlessness in traditional classroom settings, which could be misinterpreted as ADHD.
  8. Hearing or Vision Problems: Sensory impairments can impact attention and concentration.
  9. Thyroid Disorders: Hypothyroidism, for example, can lead to fatigue and difficulties with concentration.
  10. Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) or Conduct Disorder (CD): Behavioral disorders can share some behavioral features with ADHD but have distinct patterns of defiance and conduct problems.

It’s crucial to consult with healthcare professionals, such as pediatricians, psychiatrists, or psychologists, who specialize in developmental and behavioral disorders to conduct a thorough evaluation. The diagnostic process should consider the individual’s medical, developmental, and psychosocial history, along with observations in various settings. Accurate diagnosis is essential for appropriate intervention and support tailored to the specific needs of the individual.

What is an ADHD Evaluation Like?

Here’s a detailed breakdown of what an ADHD evaluation is like and what to expect during the process:

  1. Initial Consultation: The process often begins with an initial consultation where the individual, or their parents in the case of children, discusses concerns with a healthcare professional.
  2. Clinical Interview: A thorough clinical interview is conducted with a healthcare professional. This could be a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a specialized ADHD clinician. During the interview, the healthcare professional gathers information about developmental history, current symptoms, and any challenges faced in daily life.
  3. Behavioral Observations: Direct observation of the individual’s behavior in various settings, such as home, school, or work, provides valuable insights into how they navigate daily activities and interact with their environment.
  4. ADHD Symptom Assessment: Standardized checklists and questionnaires are used to assess the presence of ADHD symptoms. These symptoms are typically categorized into inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
  5. Medical History and Physical Examination: A thorough review of medical history helps identify any underlying health conditions and a physical examination helps rule out other medical issues that may contribute to or mimic ADHD symptoms.
  6. Psychological Testing: Psychological tests help assess executive functions, cognitive abilities, and overall emotional well-being.
  7. Parent and Teacher Input: Information from parents, caregivers, and teachers is crucial, providing additional perspectives on the individual’s behavior and functioning in different settings.
  8. Ruling Out Other Conditions: As the evaluation process goes through, the healthcare professional aims to rule out other conditions that may mimic or coexist with ADHD, such as learning disabilities, anxiety, depression, or other psychiatric disorders.

How to Prepare for an ADHD Evaluation

You shouldn’t “practice” for an ADHD evaluation. However, there are some things you should do to be prepared, either for yourself or your child.

  • Read and learn from reputable websites. Learn what the signs and symptoms of ADHD are and connect them to your real-life experiences.
  • Have a list of examples ready. Make a list of notes so that you are prepared for the interviews and don’t forget significant events or experiences you want to include.
  • If applicable, you may want to ask teachers what they are seeing. Or, if talking about yourself, what issues are you running into, in the workplace?
  • Schedule your appointments at a time when you won’t feel rushed.

Once the evaluation is complete, the healthcare professional discusses the findings with the individual and their family (if applicable).

Together, they explore treatment options and develop a comprehensive plan tailored to the individual’s specific needs.

Is Every ADHD Evaluation the same?

No. Not every ADHD evaluation is the same.

The specific components and methods used in an ADHD evaluation can vary based on factors such as the age of the individual, the presenting symptoms, and the preferences of the healthcare professional conducting the assessment. 

Where to Go to Get an ADHD Evaluation?

To get an ADHD evaluation, you can start by contacting various healthcare professionals and organizations. Here are some common places to consider:

  1. Primary Care Physician (PCP): Your family doctor or primary care physician can be a good starting point. They can conduct an initial assessment, provide information, and may refer you to a specialist for a more comprehensive ADHD evaluation.
  2. Pediatrician: For children, pediatricians are often involved in the evaluation process. They can assess developmental milestones, gather information from parents and teachers, and offer guidance on the next steps.
  3. Psychiatrist: Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health. They can conduct thorough evaluations, provide a diagnosis, and prescribe medication if necessary. Many specialize in ADHD and related disorders.
  4. Psychologist: Clinical psychologists are trained to conduct psychological assessments, including ADHD evaluations. They may use interviews, observations, and standardized tests to gather information about an individual’s cognitive and emotional functioning.
  5. Specialized ADHD Clinics: Some clinics or centers specialize in ADHD assessments and treatments. These may have a team of professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists, working together to provide comprehensive care.

It’s important to note that the process and availability of resources may vary depending on your location and healthcare system.

Start by contacting your primary care physician or seeking a referral to a specialist who can conduct a thorough ADHD evaluation tailored to your needs or the needs of your child.

Can You Get an ADHD Evaluation Online?

You can get an ADHD evaluation online.

However,  it’s essential to ensure that the healthcare provider or platform is reputable, adheres to privacy and confidentiality standards, and employs licensed professionals. 

Here are some ways you can get an online ADHD evaluation:

  1. Online Mental Health Platforms: There are online platforms specifically dedicated to mental health services. Some platforms connect users with licensed professionals who can assess and diagnose ADHD through video consultations.
  2. Virtual Clinics: Some clinics operate entirely online, providing comprehensive mental health services, including ADHD evaluations. These virtual clinics often have a team of professionals who can conduct assessments remotely.
  3. Mobile Apps and Self-Assessment Tools: While not a substitute for a professional evaluation, there are mobile apps and online tools designed to help individuals assess and track ADHD symptoms. These can serve as initial screening tools, but a formal diagnosis requires a comprehensive evaluation by a qualified professional.

Keep in mind that while online evaluations can be convenient, in-person assessments may offer certain advantages, such as a more comprehensive understanding of an individual’s environment and face-to-face interaction. 

Ultimately, the choice between online and in-person evaluations depends on individual preferences, accessibility, and the specific circumstances surrounding the evaluation

How Long Does ADHD Evaluation Take?

The duration of an ADHD evaluation can vary based on several factors, including the individual’s age, the complexity of symptoms, the specific assessment tools used, and the healthcare professional.

Generally, the initial assessment may take 1 to 2 hours, while a more in-depth assessment may take several hours spread across multiple sessions. 

Multiple sessions may be required to gather comprehensive information and conduct various assessments. Additionally, the healthcare professional may recommend follow-up sessions to monitor progress or adjust treatment strategies.

It’s recommended to discuss the expected timeline with the healthcare professional at the beginning of the process. Clear communication about the steps involved and the estimated duration helps manage expectations and ensures that the evaluation is thorough and accurate.

What to Expect After an ADHD Evaluation

After an ADHD evaluation, several outcomes are possible, depending on the findings and the individual’s needs. 

Here’s what you might expect:

  1. Diagnosis or No Diagnosis: The clinician will determine whether ADHD is diagnosed based on the assessment results. If ADHD is absent, alternative explanations for the symptoms may be explored.
  2. Treatment Recommendations: If ADHD is diagnosed, the healthcare professional will likely provide treatment recommendations. This may include a combination of behavioral interventions, psychoeducation, and, in some cases, medication.
  3. Individualized Plan: A personalized plan may be developed to address specific challenges identified during the evaluation. This plan could include strategies for managing symptoms in daily life, academic or workplace accommodations, and support for building skills.
  4. Medication Discussion: If medication is recommended, the healthcare professional will discuss the potential benefits, risks, and side effects. They may work with you to find the most suitable medication and dosage.
  5. Follow-Up Appointments: Follow-up appointments may be scheduled to monitor progress, adjust treatment strategies if necessary, and address any new concerns.

Remember, the post-evaluation phase is an opportunity for collaboration between the individual, their support network, and healthcare professionals to implement effective strategies and interventions. 

Ongoing communication and regular follow-up are key components of managing ADHD effectively and enhancing overall well-being.

In summary, an ADHD evaluation is a multifaceted process that combines information from various sources to arrive at a comprehensive understanding of an individual’s attention and behavior. 

This thorough assessment is essential to providing accurate diagnoses and creating effective, personalized interventions for those with ADHD.

As a reminder, I am not a doctor nor do I play one online. This information is being provided for informational purposes only and should never serve as a substitute for medical care.

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