ADHD Testing and Diagnosis

Attentional Problems

Attention problems are one of the most common complaints among college students.  The inability to hold focus on one’s studies can be very distressing and can significantly impact academic progress and success. However, it is important to note the many factors that can result in attentional problems; cell/social media traffic, environmental noise and stimuli, lack of adequate sleep, multiple screens all the time, poor diet, substance use, preoccupation with unresolved stressors, anxiety, depression, grief…lots of reasons why we may be unable to focus. Also, decades of research about learning have indicated that successful marathon study sessions may be an unreasonable expectation. Our actual information intake capacity (learning curve) has a limit of about 20-30 minutes. So, if you’re losing focus easily, consider the factors listed above, start a habit of regular breaks after shorter, intense periods of study, and collect some data about the times you lose focus.

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder usually observed and diagnosed in childhood. Because neurodevelopmental disorders affect the development of the nervous system, this disorder is life-long, pervasive across every aspect of life and relationships, and is usually observed during early schooling. The symptoms most commonly noted in this diagnosis are inattention, difficulty with impulse control, and memory problems.

What causes ADHD?

The specific causes and risk factors for ADHD are still unknown. Researchers have been able to identify risk and genetic factors that increase the likelihood for ADHD. Examples of these factors include brain injury, premature birth, mother’s use of alcohol and tobacco during pregnancy, and prenatal and/or infant exposure to toxins (e.g., lead paint). Commonly held beliefs about the impact of diet, television, and parenting on ADHD have not been supported by scientific studies. These factors could worsen current symptoms of ADHD, but they have not been proven to cause this disorder.

Testing and Diagnosis

No single test exists to specifically diagnose for ADHD. A psychological evaluation is necessary to determine whether the inattention symptoms are indeed caused by ADHD, and not a different medical condition. Diagnoses like anxiety, depression, and insomnia cause inattention, which makes diagnosis a complex process. A misdiagnosis of ADHD will not be helpful to someone whose inattention is impacted by their depression or anxiety. If the depression and anxiety persist, the inattention will continue to impact that individual as the root of the problem is not being addressed.

Valid ADHD assessment includes a face-to-face, in-depth psychological interview and the administration of various psychological tests, including intelligence and personality tests. These tests are required as the clinician is looking for specific areas of impairment. Additionally, because ADHD is a childhood disorder, clients will be asked to provide information about their symptoms in childhood.  A questionnaire is also provided to a caretaker to provide retroactive information regarding symptoms they noted during their child’s development.

Avoid the speedy, online evaluation websites! They usually do not meet the standard for assessing ADHD and most providers, including SHAC, will not accept those results. ADHD medications are considered schedule II drugs, under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.  A schedule II drug is considered to have a high abuse potential, meaning the administration, use, and distribution of these drugs are highly regulated. Consequently, many providers will require proper documentation before prescribing ADHD medications. These providers will be looking for a psychological report detailing the client’s symptoms and a clear diagnosis.

ADHD Treatment

The best treatment for ADHD is a combination of medication and behavioral therapy. Students can learn about their symptoms so that they can work with them, rather than against them. Behavioral therapy can help change behaviors that negatively impact academic success.

ADHD Testing: What to Expect

Step 1: Triage

  • The triage process involves a brief interview to get you into our system and see what other services may be appropriate to help you meet your goals.
  • Other factors will be considered that can contribute to difficulties with Attention/Concentration/Impulsivity/Hyperactivity.
  • Triage person may recommend an individual counseling assessment appointment to alleviate any possible confounding conditions first before referring to an ADHD Screen.

Step 2: Screening

  • The screening process involves an interview and review of forms submitted prior to the session.
  • The clinician conducting the assessment will provide you additional information regarding the process.
  • This session is used to understand your symptoms and determine if testing is recommended.
  • Additional assessment/observer forms will be given to you at the time of the screening appointment to have observers complete and return.
  • Screenings may be done via a telehealth appointment.

Step 3: Testing

  • The final assessment appointment cannot be scheduled until SHAC receives all the additional forms given during the ADHD screen.
  • If the screening indicates a likelihood of ADHD you will be scheduled for a final testing appointment while must be conducted face-to-face and will involve standardized and computerized testing to confirm a diagnosis.
  • A final report will be completed and placed into your record and you will be contacted about the results.