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 such as lack of adequate sleep, cell/social media traffic, environmental noise and stimuli, excessive screen time, poor diet, substance use, preoccupation with unresolved stressors, anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, and various medical issues. Decades of research about learning has indicated that marathon study sessions may be ineffective. According to research, actual information intake capacity 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 condition usually observed and diagnosed in childhood. Neurodevelopmental conditions impact the nervous system, are lifelong, and can impact many aspects of life. ADHD can affect academic performance, relationships, organization, planning, and follow-through. The symptoms most commonly noted in this diagnosis are persistent inattention, difficulty with impulse control, hyperactivity, and/or 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 existing symptoms of ADHD, but they have not been proven to cause this disorder.

Testing and Diagnosis

Counseling session between patient and therapist.

No single test exists to diagnose ADHD. A multi-step psychological evaluation is necessary to determine whether inattention symptoms are indeed caused by ADHD, and not a different medical or psychological condition. Diagnoses like anxiety, depression, and insomnia cause inattention, which makes the diagnostic process complex. A misdiagnosis of ADHD will not be helpful to someone whose inattention is driven by their depression or anxiety because the focus of treatment will be ADHD and not the actual cause(s) of the inattention.

Therefore, careful and thorough assessment is necessary to identify the root cause(s) of the inattention/impulsivity/hyperactivity. This process includes a face-to-face, in-depth psychological interview, the administration of various psychological tests and questionnaires. Because ADHD is a lifelong disorder, clients will be asked to provide information about their symptoms in childhood.

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 Treatment

The best treatment for ADHD is a combination of medication and behavioral therapy. Many 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 therefore, the administration, use, and distribution of these drugs are highly regulated. Consequently, many providers will require proper documentation, including a psychological report detailing the client’s symptoms and a clear diagnosis before prescribing ADHD medications. Medication can help improve brain function by balancing neurotransmitters in the brain. Behavioral treatment can help students learn about their symptoms, identify their strengths, and develop new strategies for success.

ADHD Evaluation at SHAC: What to Expect

*4-5 appointments over the span of 2-4 months*

Step 1: OAAT (or One At A Time) Session

  • 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.
  • The provider may recommend individual counseling to help you identify and address any possible confounding conditions before referring to an ADHD Screen. The provider will also give you a questionnaire about ADHD symptoms.

Step 2: Screening (1.5 hours) 

  • The screening process involves an interview and a review of questionnaires submitted by the student prior to the session.
  • 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 (4+ hours) 

  • The next appointment cannot be scheduled until SHAC psychologist receives all the additional forms given during the ADHD screen and it is determined that there is a likelihood of ADHD.
  • Testing is done in an extended-time appointment in-person and involves various tests.

Step 4: Review of Results and Plan for Success 

  • A final report will be completed, and you will meet with the provider to review your results and create a plan for success.
To get started, call our front desk at 505-277-3136 to schedule an OAAT session today.