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How do I find out if my child has ADHD?

Because there is no brain imaging scan or blood test to diagnose ADHD, it is important that a health care professional specifically trained to diagnose and treat ADHD evaluate your child’s behavior. Clinicians, such as pediatricians and child and adolescent psychiatrists, will be able to tell whether your child’s behaviors are symptoms of ADHD or if he or she is just unusually active or immature.

Most cases of ADHD are first diagnosed in the early school years. Children who are diagnosed with ADHD have symptoms that impair their ability to function as well as other children the same age. These symptoms must last at least 6 months before a child can be diagnosed with ADHD.

There are three subtypes of ADHD: primarily inattentive, primarily hyperac- tive/impulsive, and that with significant symptoms of both (called combined subtype). Boys diagnosed with ADHD outnumber girls with the condition by about three to one. Some doctors think that just as many girls have ADHD as boys, but they are not diagnosed as often because they are less disruptive and because their symptoms may not become unmanageable until they are older. For instance, girls sometimes show their ADHD in less troublemaking ways, such as being inattentive. Now that more health care professionals are aware of the unique ways ADHD affects girls and boys, more girls are being diagnosed and receiving treatment.

Some parents worry because more children are being diagnosed with ADHD now than in the past. Research indicates that the increase is largely due to enhanced awareness and improved detection of the condition—including diagnosing children who may have less severe forms of ADHD. Now that more people know about ADHD and its symptoms, younger children, adolescents, girls, and adults with this condition are more likely to be identified and treated.Despite the rise in ADHD diagnoses and the fear that some children are still being incorrectly identified as having ADHD, underdiagnosis remains a problem. There are still many children with ADHD (almost half) who are not diagnosed and do not receive treatment.

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