ADHD can only be diagnosed by the relevant clinical professional. Typically, this is subjective based on the quality of the information provided via rating scales and how the individual presents on the day. The process can take a considerable amount of time, particularly for under 18s, due to the high level of demand.
Many clinicians refer to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, currently in its fifth version (DSM -V) when they assess for ADHD. In order to ‘qualify’ for a diagnosis, a child must meet at least six out of nine criteria in either inattentive and hyperactive sides of the condition, or both. For adults, the minimum is five out of nine to allow for individuals ‘growing into/out of’ symptoms.
(1) Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work or during other activities (for example, overlooks or misses details, work is inaccurate).
(2) Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities (for example, has difficulty remaining focused during lectures, conversations or reading lengthy writings).
(3) Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly (mind seems elsewhere, even in the absence of any obvious distraction).
(4) Frequently does not follow through on instructions (starts tasks but quickly loses focus and is easily side-tracked, fails to finish schoolwork, household chores or tasks in the workplace).
(5) Often has difficulty organising tasks and activities. (Has difficulty managing sequential tasks and keeping materials and belongings in order. Work is messy and disorganized. Has poor time management and tends to fail to meet deadlines).
(6) Characteristically avoids, seems to dislike, and is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as schoolwork or homework or, for older adolescents and adults, preparing reports, completing forms or reviewing lengthy papers).
(7) Frequently loses objects necessary for tasks or activities (e.g., school assignments, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses or mobile telephones).
(8) Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli (for older adolescents and adults, may include unrelated thoughts).
(9) Is often forgetful in daily activities, chores and running errands (for older adolescents and adults, returning calls, paying bills and keeping appointments).
Hyperactivity and Impulsivity:
(1) Often fidgets or taps hands or feet or squirms in seat.
(2) Is often restless during activities when others are seated (may leave his or her place in the classroom, office or other workplace, or in other situations that require remaining seated).
(3) Often runs about or climbs on furniture and moves excessively in inappropriate situations. In adolescents or adults, may be limited to feeling restless or confined.
(4) Is often excessively loud or noisy during play, leisure or social activities.
(5) Is often “on the go,” acting as if “driven by a motor.” Is uncomfortable being still for an extended time, as in restaurants, meetings etc. Seen by others as being restless and difficult to keep up with.
(6) Often talks excessively.
(7) Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed. Older adolescents or adults may complete people’s sentences and “jump the gun” in conversations.
(8) Has difficulty waiting his or her turn or waiting in line.
(9) Often interrupts or intrudes on others (frequently butts into conversations, games or activities; may start using other people’s things without asking or receiving permission; adolescents or adults may intrude into or take over what others are doing).
Beyond this, the diagnosis can only be achieved if:
A. Several noticeable inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms were present by age 12.
B. The symptoms are apparent in two or more settings (e.g. at home, school or work, with friends or relatives, or in other activities).
C. There must be clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with, or reduce, the quality of social, academic or occupational functioning.
D. The symptoms are not better accounted for by another mental disorder (e.g. mood disorder, anxiety disorder, dissociative disorder or a personality disorder).
If the information here has resonated with you and you recognise some of the symptoms above in yourself or a young person you care for, consider downloading and completing one self-rating scales below, which will give some indication of whether or not the criteria are met in terms of the female experience of ADHD.
If you think you or your child has ADHD, the ‘first port of call’ would be your GP. Make an appointment and ask for a referral for a full ADHD assessment. Take as much evidence as you can to illustrate how you or your child meet the diagnostic criteria.