Diagnosing ADHD

ADHD Diagnosis and Background of Symptoms

For diagnosing ADHD, the symptoms of ADHD must appear early in life, before age 7, and continue for at least 6 months. Above all, the symptoms of ADHD must create a real handicap in at least 2 areas of a person's life, such as:
  • In the schoolroom
  • On the playground
  • At home
  • In the community
  • In social settings.


Someone who shows some symptoms but whose schoolwork or friendships are not impaired by these behaviors would not be given an ADHD diagnosis. Nor would a child who seems overly active on the playground but functions well elsewhere receive an ADHD diagnosis.

To assess whether a child has ADHD, specialists consider several critical questions:
  • Are these behaviors excessive, long-term, and pervasive? That is, do they occur more often than in other children the same age?
  • Are they a continuous problem, not just a response to a temporary situation?
  • Do the behaviors occur in several settings or only in one specific place like the playground or in the schoolroom?
Then the person's pattern of behavior is compared against a set of criteria and characteristics of the disorder as listed in the DSM-IV-TR.

DSM-IV-TR Criteria

The most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR),) provides criteria for diagnosing ADHD. The criteria are presented here in modified form in order to make them more accessible to the general public. They are listed here for information purposes and should be used only by trained healthcare providers to diagnose or treat ADHD.
DSM-IV Criteria
Six or more of the following ADHD symptoms of inattention have been present for at least 6 months to a point that is disruptive and inappropriate for developmental level:
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ADHD Information

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