If you think you or your child may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), speak to a GP. You can also speak to your child’s teacher or their school’s special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO).
The GP cannot formally diagnose ADHD, but they can discuss your concerns with you and refer you for a specialist assessment, if necessary. Your school may also be able to arrange a specialist referral for your child.
When you see a GP, they may ask you:
- about your symptoms or those of your child
- when these symptoms started
- where the symptoms occur – for example, at home, in school, college or university, or at work
- whether the symptoms affect your or your child's day-to-day life – for example, if they make socialising difficult
- if there have been any recent significant events in your or your child's life, such as a death or divorce in the family
- if there's a family history of ADHD
- about any other problems or symptoms of different health conditions you or your child may have
Children and teenagers
If the GP thinks your child may have ADHD, they may first suggest a period of "watchful waiting" – lasting around 10 weeks – to see if your child's symptoms improve, stay the same or get worse.
They may also suggest starting a group-based, ADHD-focused parent training or education programme. Being offered a parent training and education programme does not mean you have been a bad parent – it aims to teach you ways of helping yourself and your child.
See treating ADHD for more information.
If your child's behaviour does not improve, and both you and the GP believe it's affecting their day-to-day life, the GP should refer you and your child to a specialist for a formal assessment.
For adults with possible ADHD, the GP will assess your symptoms and may refer you for an assessment if:
- you were not diagnosed with ADHD as a child, but your symptoms began during childhood and have been ongoing since
- your symptoms cannot be explained by a mental health condition
- your symptoms significantly affect your day-to-day life – for example, if you're underachieving at work or find intimate relationships difficult
You may also be referred to a specialist if you had ADHD as a child or young person and your symptoms are now causing moderate or severe functional impairment.
You or your child may be referred to 1 of the following types of specialist for a formal assessment:
- a specialist child or adult psychiatrist
- a paediatrician – a specialist in children's health
- an appropriately qualified healthcare professional with training and expertise in the diagnosis of ADHD
Who you're referred to depends on your age and what's available in your local area.
There's no simple test to determine whether you or your child has ADHD, but your specialist can make an accurate diagnosis after a detailed assessment. The assessment may include:
- a physical examination, which can help rule out other possible causes for the symptoms
- a series of interviews with you or your child
- interviews or reports from other significant people, such as partners, parents and teachers
Diagnosis in children and teenagers
Diagnosing ADHD in children depends on a set of strict criteria. To be diagnosed with ADHD, your child must have 6 or more symptoms of inattentiveness, or 6 or more symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
To be diagnosed with ADHD, your child must also have:
- been displaying symptoms continuously for at least 6 months
- started to show symptoms before the age of 12
- been showing symptoms in at least 2 different settings – for example, at home and at school, to rule out the possibility that the behaviour is just a reaction to certain teachers or to parental control
- symptoms that make their lives considerably more difficult on a social, academic or occupational level
- symptoms that are not just part of a developmental disorder or difficult phase, and are not better accounted for by another condition
Diagnosis in adults
Diagnosing ADHD in adults is more difficult because there's some disagreement about whether the list of symptoms used to diagnose children and teenagers also applies to adults.
In some cases, an adult may be diagnosed with ADHD if they have 5 or more of the symptoms of inattentiveness, or 5 or more of hyperactivity and impulsiveness, listed in diagnostic criteria for children with ADHD.
As part of your assessment, the specialist will ask about your present symptoms. However, under current diagnostic guidelines, a diagnosis of ADHD in adults cannot be confirmed unless your symptoms have been present from childhood.
If you find it difficult to remember whether you had problems as a child, your specialist may wish to see your old school records, or talk to your parents, teachers or anyone else who knew you well when you were a child.
For an adult to be diagnosed with ADHD, their symptoms should also have a moderate effect on different areas of their life, such as:
- underachieving at work or in education
- driving dangerously
- difficulty making or keeping friends
- difficulty in relationships with partners
If your problems are recent and did not occur regularly in the past, you're not considered to have ADHD. This is because it's currently thought that ADHD cannot develop for the first time in adults.
Page last reviewed: 24 December 2021
Next review due: 21 December 2024