Updated 10 May 2016

Diagnosing ADHD

There is no single test to diagnose ADHD - a comprehensive evaluation of the symptoms and the patient's medical history is required to make an accurate diagnosis.


There is no single test to diagnose ADHD. Instead, a comprehensive evaluation is necessary to:

• Reach a diagnosis to rule out other causes for the symptoms of ADHD 
• Establish whether coexisting conditions are present.

Such an evaluation requires time and effort and should include a clinical assessment of the individual’s academic, social and emotional functioning. In children, a careful history should be taken from parents and teachers. Often both a psychologist and medical practitioner, usually a psychiatrist or paediatrician, should be involved in the assessment process.

Before reaching a diagnosis, it is important to rule out the following conditions, which usually manifest similar symptoms to those of ADHD:

• Emotional difficulties/social and environmental problems. 
• Low muscle tone – some children have to focus so hard on sitting up straight that they fidget more. 
• Motor-coordination difficulties – if present, this often leads to problems with task completion and the quality of work presented. It often coexists in patients with ADHD. 
• Sensory modulation disorders – these children have problems being tactile or are light defensive. The noise defensive child has difficulty blocking out background noise when having to pay attention. 
• Global development delay – concentration and functioning should be evaluated according to functional, not chronological age. 
• Absence epilepsy – often presents between ages 6 - 10 years. It is important to realise that some of the above can also be present in patients with a classical picture of ADHD. Other problems may present with symptoms suggestive of ADHD, and this often leads to a later diagnosis because the interaction with concentration problems is not explored. They often coexist. 

In order for a diagnosis of ADHD to be made, the following conditions should be met:

• Some symptoms must have appeared by the age of seven. 
• At least six symptoms must be present and must have persisted for at least six months. 
• Symptoms must occur in at least two different settings (for example, at school and at home). 
• The symptoms must cause significant impairment of social and academic functioning.

Read more:

What is ADHD?

Symptoms of ADHD

Causes of ADHD

Reviewed by Dr A van der Walt, MMed (Paed) BSc Hon (Human Genetics) April 2015.



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ADHD Expert

Dr. Shabeer Ahmed Jeeva is a specialist psychiatrist who has been practicing child and adult psychiatry for 30 years. He has vast experience in treating ADHD, and is also an ADHD patient himself. Dr. Jeeva trained and practiced in Canada as a child and adult psychiatrist and had lived there for 25 years. He had attended medical school at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland (1970-1976). His professional experience and accreditation includes: Psychiatric residency at the University of Ottawa (Canada), Child Psychiatry fellowship at the University of Ottawa (Canada), Diploma in Psychiatry at the University of Ottawa (Canada), and Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in Canada. Visit his website at:

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