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When evaluating patients for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or hyperkinetic disorder (HKD), it is typical to use multiple stages of assessment prior to formal diagnosis.1-4

Following assessment, formal diagnosis is based on symptomatology and conducted by secondary care specialists using validated medical classification systems (e.g. the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th edition [DSM-5TM] or International Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders 10th revision [ICD-10] classification systems).5,6

Assessment of ADHD typically involves the comprehensive evaluation of information gathered from a number of sources, including parents/carers, family members, teachers, partners and colleagues, depending on the age of the patient (Figure).1-6 A range of qualified healthcare professionals may be involved in the assessment and diagnosis of ADHD, such as psychiatrists, psychologists or nurses, who have training and expertise in the diagnosis of ADHD in children, adolescents and/or adults.1-4

Assessment of ADHD1-4,6

Elements for the assessment of ADHD

Who are the key specialists you collaborate with in your clinical practice? | Prof Michel Lecendreux | Hôpital Universitaire Robert Debré, Paris, France


Clinical examination

Clinical examination aims to identify the presence of other illnesses with symptoms that overlap with those of ADHD.1-4

  • This typically involves inspections for vision or hearing impairments, neurodevelopmental immaturity in relation to gross and fine motor functions and motor or vocal tics, and retardation1-4
  • A general examination of patient’s physical health may also be performed to highlight any evidence of a congenital disorder1-4
  • Clinicians may also look for evidence of comorbidities which are often found in patients with ADHD.1-4

Interview

A healthcare professional will interview the person with suspected ADHD along with any relevant family members, carers, partners, teachers, employers or friends, to ascertain:1-4

  • Perceptions of the person with suspected ADHD about their own symptoms, behaviour, functioning, self-esteem or emotions;2 in adults, this will include recall of childhood symptoms and behaviour6
  • Observations of symptoms/behaviours in different settings1,2
  • Developmental, medical and psychiatric history1,2
  • Associated family functional difficulties/issues1-3
  • Presence of any comorbidities1-4
  • Patterns of ADHD or related comorbidities present in the family.3
Which other health professionals or non-health professionals involved in your patients’ care do you engage with to help with decision-making? | Dr David Coghill | Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, Australia


Observations

Behavioural observations may be useful to confirm symptoms reported in interview.1,2

For children and adolescents, teachers in particular may be especially well placed to identify symptoms of ADHD in children1,2 and support symptom reports from parents.7

  • Reports from teachers are recognised as one of the optimal sources of information related to problems with behaviour or developmental/social functioning in children and adolescents, with standardised questionnaires considered a useful tool to obtain such information2
  • Classroom observations by an educational psychologist are also useful for diagnosing children and adolescents, if feasible.2

For adults, the sources of information may need to be broadened beyond the patient to include spouses, parents or adult siblings.3

Rating scales

A number of rating scales are available to help assess general behaviour and psychosocial functioning, ADHD symptomatology and comorbidities.1-4 Rating scales can be completed by parents, teachers or the patient themselves, depending on which scale is chosen, and are considered to be an essential part of the full assessment process for ADHD. 1-4

  1. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: diagnosis and management. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg72/resources/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-diagnosis-and-management-975625063621. Last updated 2016. Accessed 05 January 2017.
  2. Taylor E, Döpfner M, Sergeant J, et al. European clinical guidelines for hyperkinetic disorder — first upgrade. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 2004; 13(Suppl 1): I/7-I/30.
  3. Kooij SJ, Bejerot S, Blackwell A, et al. European consensus statement on diagnosis and treatment of adult ADHD: The European Network Adult ADHD. BMC Psychiatry 2010; 10: 67.
  4. Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance (CADDRA). Canadian ADHD Practice Guidelines. Toronto: CADDRA, 2011.
  5. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. 2013.
  6. World Health Organization. The ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders. Available at: www.who.int/entity/classifications/icd/en/bluebook.pdf. Last updated 1993; 1: 1-263. Accessed 04 January 2017.
  7. Sibley MH, Pelham WE Jr., Molina BS, et al. Diagnosing ADHD in adolescence. J Consult Clin Psychol 2012; 80: 139-150.
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