boy making funny face

At What Age Can ADHD be Diagnosed in Children?

It can be difficult enough for a grown adult to realize that he or she may be struggling with a mental health disorder. You can imagine how hard life is for children with mental disorders, who have no idea why they seem or feel different from “normal” children. That’s where parents and other caring adults can make a difference in a child’s life by seeking testing, and potentially treatment, on his or her behalf.

Not every temper tantrum signifies a disorder, but a string of irregular behaviors might hint at an underlying condition. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, affects about 10 percent of the U.S. population. The good news about this disorder is that it can be diagnosed early in children. We’ve provided a brief overview of ADHD and ADHD testing so that you can be aware of the options available to you and your child.

What is ADHD?

ADHD has been documented for over a century but was not officially recognized by the mainstream medical community until the 1990s. The disorder has a complicated history of reclassification, which occurred several times as it was studied over the years. This history is why you may still hear ADHD incorrectly referred to as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). ADD is actually a type of ADHD that excludes the hyperactivity portion of the disorder.

ADHD, once described as an issue with control, and then a form of brain damage is now understood to be a genetic mental health disorder. Because the condition causes increased impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattentiveness, people with ADHD struggle to focus on everyday tasks and routines. They also often exhibit certain behaviors such as:

  • Fidgeting
  • Trouble getting organized
  • Noisiness
  • Difficulty planning or difficulty taking the time to think before acting
  • Inability to adapt to new situations

What Causes ADHD?

Researchers have yet to discover a definitive cause of ADHD, but they have narrowed down the list of culprits to a chemical, structural, or connectivity difference within the brain, or a combination of those factors. On the other hand, science has disproved a whole host of possible causes of the disorder. ADHD has been called a result of everything from food coloring in foods to head injuries to poor parenting, but this simply isn’t true. The factors that lead to this genetic disorder are found in the brain.

When Can ADHD Be Detected in Children?

While ADHD can be diagnosed in children from a young age, most symptoms of the disorder begin to be expressed when the child is around eight years old. It can be particularly difficult to diagnose ADHD in children, because they often display some of the common signs of the disorder, such as:

  • Defiance
  • Aggressiveness
  • Trouble focusing
  • Impatience
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Hyperactivity
  • Forgetfulness
  • Careless mistakes
  • Daydreaming

Every child will express some of these behaviors at one point or another, but not every child will suffer from ADHD. It’s important for parents to differentiate between normal behavior and persistent symptoms of the disorder. ADHD can continue to impact a person well into adulthood, particularly if it goes undiagnosed and untreated. Without proper care, the disorder can affect your child’s academic success and socializing skills.

Testing for ADHD

Over the last decade, the number of children diagnosed with disorders like ADHD has increased dramatically. Clearly, we’re getting better at spotting the signs of the condition. But there is no perfect method for diagnosing ADHD. Because the genetic marker that determines whether or not the disorder is expressed has yet to be understood, there currently exists no genetic or chemical test that can help diagnose a child with ADHD.

While there is no genetic test that can reveal the existence of ADHD, the current process for diagnosing the disorder is only getting more refined. If you’ve observed persistent ADHD-like symptoms in your child, your first move should be to visit your primary care pediatrician, who can refer you to a psychiatric professional.

Once you’ve been referred to a psychologist, psychotherapist, or psychiatrist, that professional will complete interviews with various people close to your child, third-party observations, sessions with your child, and a behavioral and symptom rating analysis. These observations, along with a comprehensive medical and behavioral history and further tests, will provide the psychiatric professional with an understanding of your child’s brain makeup, and what might be affecting it.

Treating ADHD at Family Psychiatry and Therapy

We know that raising a child, particularly one with a behavioral disorder such as ADHD, is rewarding but hard work. At Family Psychiatry and Therapy, we’ll take care of some of that stress by providing thorough testing and a comprehensive, individualized treatment plan for your child, which could include a combination of medication, coping techniques, and therapy sessions. Throughout the diagnosis and treatment process, our team of experienced professionals will give your child the care he or she deserves.

When we diagnose a child with ADHD, we take the time to identify the type of ADHD being experienced. We then create a customized treatment plan to help overcome or manage the symptoms of this disorder. If you feel that your child may have ADHD, contact us today to schedule a diagnostic evaluation, or to find out more about how our services can help.

Share this post

headshot of dr.miller

Helene A. Miller / And Other Providers
Family Psychiatry and Therapy brings compassion, understanding, and skilled care to patients throughout New Jersey. Our team of mental health professionals focuses on providing a positive and uplifting experience that aids our patients in facing life’s toughest challenges.