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Using Surveys/Questionnaires to Diagnose ADHD

Because there is not one single test for ADHD and it is typically diagnosed through a “preponderance of evidence”, many doctors and practitioners will administer one of many ADHD behavior questionnaires to determine if there is enough evidence to make a diagnosis. The surveys are often completed by the parents, teachers, and if the child is an appropriate age, they will also be asked to complete a survey based on their own perceptions of their behavior and school performance.
Here is the problem with ONLY using the surveys in making a diagnosis……so many things can cause a child to be inattentive. Just filling out a survey that indicates inattentive behavior only answers half of the questions. The real question should be WHY?.

Why is this student inattentive?

Are they inattentive because they don’t understand?
Are they inattentive because they can’t hear everything?
Are they inattentive because there is something going on outside of school that is distracting them?
Or, are they inattentive because they simply can’t pay attention?
These questions are critical in the appropriate diagnosis of ADHD. If you were placed in the back of a college level Latin class (assuming you do not speak Latin), you would likely zone out simply because the information being taught is far above your head. If you were placed in a classroom where, for whatever reason, you could not hear with the teacher was saying, you would eventually give up and just do or think about something else. If you are at work but you had a fight with your best friend, or your dog passed away, it would be hard to stay focussed on your work. In all of these scenarios, you would be observed to be “off task” or “inattentive” when in reality, you have the ability to stay focussed. By understanding why kids may be inattentive, it increases the likelihood that an appropriate diagnosis is being made.

In addition, if the diagnosis of ADHD is going to be used to access accommodations on any formal standardized test or to gain access to college disability programs, then they will want to know more than what the surveys say. They want to see HOW the inattention is impacting the academic performance. They want proof that the accommodations are needed.  This can only be done through a comprehensive evaluation.

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