Perhaps you’re in the process of assessing a student for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or maybe you’re struggling to identify the differences between two lookalike diagnoses. Learn more about why ADHD can be difficult to diagnose, although symptoms may seem obvious on paper, and understand which ADHD assessment measures you can use to help children and teenagers make the most out of their school years.
Why ADHD poses a diagnostic challenge
While ADHD is a commonly diagnosed condition, there are no blood tests, scans, or physical characteristics that can point to the syndrome with 100% certainty. It is up to the clinician to make a diagnosis based on observations, interviews, and the judicious use of standardised rating scales. Consider these assessment measures for people of all ages who have potential symptoms of ADHD:
- (ADHDT-2) Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Test, Second Edition. This assessment aids in identifying and correctly diagnosing the condition as well as determining how mild or severe it is. It is appropriate for school-aged children who are approximately 5–17 years old.
- (CAARS) Conners’ Adult ADHD Rating Scales. This rating scale will help you identify ADHD in teens 18 and older. It’s also appropriate for adults. The scale measures emotional, behavioural, and cognitive regulation specific to ADHD.
Why it’s important to recognize lookalike diagnoses and comorbidities
Is it ADHD, is it not, or is it ADHD in addition to another condition? Comorbidities with ADHD include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, learning disabilities, and autism. Anxiety can cause social symptoms that may cause a child to look like they are not paying attention, while autism may contribute to a child’s impulsiveness and trouble focusing on what does not interest them. Many of these conditions include similar symptoms such as the following:
- Trouble paying attention
- Mood swings or expressing strong emotions at inappropriate times
- Emotional outbursts when frustrated
- Executive function deficits include difficulty planning, problems sequencing events, and completing tasks in proper order.
It’s important to note that before the publication of the DSM-5 in 2013, diagnosing ADHD and autism in the same child was not possible. With this change and being able to diagnose these conditions concurrently, up to 70% of kids with autism show attention problems or signs of ADHD. It is likely that many children will receive both diagnoses and that symptoms will overlap.
It can be difficult to parse a child’s symptoms when identifying a subtype of ADHD, and it can be even more confusing when lookalike comorbidities muddy the diagnostic waters. Using standardised assessment measures specifically designed for ‘catching’ ADHD traits can be extremely helpful in this context.
Choose assessment materials from an experienced provider
WPS strives to make research-based assessment materials available to clinicians and educators so that they will be best able to determine how to help children succeed in school. Contact them today.
Tommy Williamson did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.