When to Have Your Child or Teen Evaluated for ADHD

young boy in class with paper airplaneIn my last article on GoodTherapy.org, I provided an in-depth explanation of what is entailed in a formal evaluation for attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), when completed by a psychologist. While knowing what is entailed is important, understanding signs to look for to determine when it may be appropriate to have your child or teen formally evaluated by a psychologist is equally so.

Formal testing by a psychologist may be helpful if you encounter any of the following situations:

  • Child/teen frequently has trouble completing and turning in homework.
  • Parents get frequent reports of child/teen not staying focused in class, being late to class, etc.
  • Child/teen often appears withdrawn.
  • Child/teen’s grades do not reflect the amount of effort put in.
  • Child/teen is displaying significant oppositional or behavioral issues at home.
  • Child/teen is being disruptive at school (i.e., talking during class, mouthing off to the teacher).
  • Child/teen has significant trouble sitting in his or her seat during class, or fidgets frequently.

This list is certainly not exhaustive, but it provides a few common situations that are key indicators of a specific issue. If your child or teen fits any of the scenarios listed above, or otherwise is struggling at school, with friends, or at home, it is important to seek services early rather than waiting for symptoms and issues to broaden. It is also important to know what is causing the issues before implementing interventions; otherwise, you may end up wasting a lot of money and time on interventions that are not appropriate for your specific situation.

For example, there could be several reasons why your child/teen is struggling in social studies. He or she may have trouble staying focused, have difficulty processing orally presented information from his or her teacher, may be anxious if the teacher is perceived as intimidating, or could have trouble interpreting graphs and charts used to help convey course material. In this situation, if you don’t know what the specific cause of the difficulty is, any intervention you would obtain would essentially be used as part of a trial-and-error approach to see what would help.

A formal evaluation conducted by a psychologist really shines in clearly identifying where your child or teen’s issues lie. The evaluation should provide you (and teachers) with a clearer sense of how the child/teen is functioning, hopefully determine if ADHD is a factor or not, and rule out the presence of a learning or auditory processing issue, depression, anxiety, or other issues that may mimic ADHD.

In some cases, evaluations will lead to recommendations for further evaluation by a different type of professional (i.e., speech-language pathologist, audiologist, or occupational therapist) to flesh out possible issues observed that are beyond the expertise of a psychologist.

While formal evaluations are useful and there is a wide variety of reasons to seek them, it is always important to speak with a psychologist to make sure an evaluation is warranted in the first place. There may be times where it makes sense to hold off on an evaluation (i.e., if your child just started at a new school two weeks ago and is struggling for the first time, if your child just experienced a significant loss, or if your child recently moved from another country and has not had previous difficulties).

One way to think about an evaluation is that it can serve as a “road map” or “manual” to understanding how your child or teen functions. It gives you the understanding you need to seek appropriate interventions so that the services you obtain will likely be effective.

Disclaimer: The preceding article is intended as general guidance based on the author’s professional opinion, does not constitute an established professional relationship, and should not replace the recommendations of a psychologist or other licensed professional with whom you initiate or maintain a professional relationship.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Carey A. Heller, PsyD, therapist in Bethesda, Maryland

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Bryant

    Bryant

    February 28th, 2014 at 1:48 PM

    I don’t understand why there are so many families who resist getting their child tested for this. If you think that it is something that could benefit your son or daughter, then why the hesitation? I mean, they are only going to tell you that yes they see this or no they don’t so at least it might give you some answers for what is going on with him or her. It would just kill me as a dad to know that my child was working his tail off and still not seeing the results. That right there would tell me that something wasn’t right, and I would wnat to get to the bottom of it and get ot corrected. It could be the teacher, it could be the studemt, or it could be something that right now they have control over, but at least an eval could give you a little more guidance and at least get you started in the right direction for getting it corrected.

  • Annika

    Annika

    March 1st, 2014 at 5:38 AM

    When you see that this is causing your child real harm and that he or she is not going to do well without some sort of intervention, then this is the time to act. I wouldn’t want to jump the gun and come to some sort of immediate conclusion but at the same time you don’t wnat this feeling of non success to permeate into the child and leave him feeling that school is never going to be the answer or the right environment for him. I think that when you are finally able to get a clear picture of all of the things that could be going on it is only then that you can see the start of real potential for growing and learning within a child.

  • leelee

    leelee

    March 3rd, 2014 at 3:49 AM

    there are some kids not cut out for a traditional classroom setting
    why aren’t there more accomodations made for learners like this?
    there are so many alternative meythods for meeting their meeds and somehow the only thing that many want to jump to is medication
    why? when there are so many other proven methods, is this tthe one that is so often turned to?
    even many times after it is shown that this is not helping the child either

  • PEG

    PEG

    March 4th, 2014 at 3:44 AM

    If this is something that you are considering, might I suggest having multiple conversations with numerous professionals before making any sort of decision about what to do in the end.

    I mean talk to doctors, teachers, counselors, other school staff, other parents that you know who could be dealing with this same thing with their own child. There are so many different opinions and routes that you could pursue, and talking to your child too about which could best suit them is critical as well. I think that too often the child is left out of the conversation, but it is important to get him involved, find out how he is thinking about all of this and what ideas he or she might have to make things a little more manageable.

  • Leslie

    Leslie

    March 5th, 2014 at 3:55 AM

    What I would be the most concerned about is when your child is so withdrawn from school and from home that you don’t even recognize him anymore. I have kind of been going through this with my own child, grades slipping and no focus at all. I have been worrying that maybe he is depressed but didn’t really know what the nest step should be for us. I have never thought that it could instead be ADHD because some of the symptoms are there and some aren’t so I am still a little confused. I know that he needs to see someone but I have sort of been hesitant thinking that this could all work itself out. I guess though this is too big of a chance to take thinking that this will fix itself by itself. He needs some help whether he knows it or not, the whole family does actually.

  • Carey Heller, Psy.D.

    Carey Heller, Psy.D.

    March 25th, 2014 at 12:20 PM

    Thanks a lot for reading this article and sharing your insights.

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