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The DSM-5 Criteria for ADHD: How Is Adult ADHD Diagnosed?

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that typically develops during childhood. While many people claim that their behavior is "so ADHD" in some regard, there are specific diagnostic criteria for ADHD from the diagnostic and statistical manual that must be met for an actual diagnosis. So what are the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis?

What Are the DSM-5 Criteria for ADHD?

The diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is different for children and adults The criteria laid out by the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders is used to diagnose adult ADHD through a scale called the Adult ADHD Investigator Symptom Rating Scale (AISRS), while children and adolescents are diagnosed using a rating scale called the ADHD rating scale 5 (ADHD-RS-5). The ADHD rating scales for children are organized according to different age groups as well as different settings.

To diagnose ADHD, symptoms interfere with daily life and activities. For children, there must be a persistent pattern of 6 or more symptoms from the symptom checklists that have lasted for more than 6 months, and negatively impact social, academic, or occupational activities.

In adolescents and adults, 5 or more symptoms of ADHD must be present and have started before age 12. These symptoms of ADHD must negatively impact social, academic, or occupational activities.

ADHD Symptoms

Before receiving a diagnosis of ADHD, medical professionals will first check that the symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity, or inattentiveness are not the result of another mental disorder or medical issue. Symptoms of ADHD can be similar to those of mood disorders like depression, anxiety disorder, sleep disorders, and other types of learning disabilities. ADHD symptoms may include:

  • Forgetting things or losing things often
  • Makes careless mistakes in their schoolwork
  • Excessive daydreaming
  • Difficulty organizing tasks
  • Difficulty sustaining attention, especially for things that require sustained mental effort
  • Easily distracted
  • Difficulty getting along with others
  • Impulsive behaviors

Three Potential Presentations of ADHD

Depending on what symptoms the patient has, there are three ways that ADHD presents itself.

ADHD Predominantly-Inattentive Presentation

The person with predominantly inattentive presentation but not hyperactive impulsivity will have more difficulty sustaining attention, organizing a task, and paying attention to details. This type is often inattentive to details or makes careless mistakes. They may be forgetful, and be easily distracted, making it difficult for them to complete tasks.

Potential Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Symptoms

With this predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation, symptoms run more toward lots of movement: fidgeting, difficulty sitting for periods of time, and restlessness. People with symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity but not inattention may jump and run around, grab things away from others, or otherwise act impulsively. They may have trouble in school due to disruption, and an inability to follow directions or wait their turn.

Hyperactivity and Impulsivity (Combined Type) Symptoms

With a combined presentation, the person will present with several symptoms from both categories.

Contributing Factors of ADHD

Researchers have not come to one clear answer for what causes ADHD, however, the latest studies show that there is a strong genetic component. Other possible risk factors for developing ADHD include:

  • Exposure to environmental risks (such as heavy metals) at a young age
  • Brain injury
  • Substance abuse while pregnant
  • Premature delivery and low birth weight

When a child has serious emotional disturbances, trauma may contribute, though many experts believe that trauma only exacerbates existing symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity rather than causing them.

Diagnosing ADHD in Children

Most cases of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are diagnosed in childhood. If a child has difficulty in school, they will often be referred to a pediatrician to begin the process of diagnosis. First, they may be given vision and hearing tests to rule out these issues.

There will be questions regarding past and current functioning, observation of the child's behavior, and use of standardized behavior rating scales. Once other mental health conditions are ruled out, parents, teachers, and the child themselves will be given ADHD symptom checklists to identify and rate the severity of their symptoms.

Mental health services begun early in life by a licensed mental health therapist can help the symptoms of inattention and impulsivity be better controlled by the individual, and a doctor may prescribe medications to help manage these symptoms.

Diagnosing ADHD in Adults

It's less common for adults to be diagnosed with ADHD. As with childhood diagnosis, symptoms of several mental disorders mimic ADHD symptoms. A healthcare professional will typically take a medical history, rule out any chronic illness or other psychiatric disorder, and then work with a mental health care professional to get an accurate ADHD diagnosis through the use of ADHD checklists.

Treatment for ADHD Symptoms

According to the Mental Health Services Administration and the American Psychiatric Association, if an individual is diagnosed in accordance with the criteria of ADHD in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, there are effective treatments available. In younger children, especially, professionals will treat ADHD symptoms primarily with behavior therapy.

Most people diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are treated with a combination of behavioral therapy and medication.

Final Thoughts on the Diagnosis of ADHD

Diagnosing ADHD by matching symptoms to the criteria for ADHD in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders can be an important step in taking care of your mental health. For children, this diagnosis can mean getting significant academic and community help for their symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity, or inattention. These services can play an integral role in their future success.

Symptoms of hyperactivity in adults can lead to frustration and difficulty functioning in their professional or personal lives. Adult ADHD often goes undiagnosed and, as a result, generates a great deal of unnecessary stress and anxiety. An ADHD diagnosis in Austin can go a long way toward helping them get assistance through medication or therapy with a licensed professional, greatly improving their mental health and well-being.

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