9 Questions to assess a medical professional who diagnoses and treats ADHD
If your struggle with ADHD-type symptoms (inattention, distractibility, disorganization and possibly impulsivity and/or hyperactivity) has you thinking about being evaluated for a possible ADHD diagnosis – good! Life needn’t be confusing and difficult– and could be much better once you know what, specifically, is going on.
Understanding what your various symptoms mean (what condition you have) is the smartest first step to choosing how to address it in the best ways.
This may be the last thing you want to hear now that you’re ready to get evaluated, but you will need to spend time and carefully choose a qualified professional to assess you for a possible ADHD diagnosis.
There is a great deal of ignorance and misinformation in the professional community about adult ADHD. Avoid just going to someone you pick at random from an online search or a referral from a friend or even from your family doctor unless you know whether or not the person is qualified to evaluate for or treat ADHD. Checking out the online directories of respected ADHD organizations(1) is a good place to start your search.
If you spend time and money and open your heart and mind to someone and then get a misdiagnosis – AND THEN follow irrelevant advice and try medications that are inappropriate … well, talk about a waste of time!
Because ADHD in adults has only been understood to exist for about 20 years, many professionals who should know about it don’t. They may not have kept up in a comprehensive way with the new information because ADHD is not their area of focus. They may have a bias which prevents them from re-evaluating their earlier training.
You will need to find someone:
who has kept up in this area, received new training, and seen adult ADHD in the many ways it can show up in individuals.
who understands what an ADHD evaluation requires. It is a several-step assessment process and generally takes about 3 hours – often longer.(2)
A thorough evaluation is important because ADHD can be confused with other conditions (usually: depression, bipolar disorder, one or more of the learning disorders, substance abuse, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress, or traumatic brain injury).
Diagnosis is complicated by the possibility that many people (studies indicate it’s around 50-60%) who have been competently diagnosed with ADHD also have a second or third diagnosable condition – usually something in the same list cited above.
You may be daunted at the idea of screening a professional or their staff about their credentials and practices. You might think of their responses to your request for information as part of your screening process. You probably wouldn’t want to get assessed by someone who doesn’t think you have a right to ask the questions you have or to receive the information you need.
If you are rejected when asking your questions in the screening process – you have been saved a nice chunk of time right there.
Here are some of the questions you might ask. You may have others.
Are you familiar with ADHD in adults? What is your background/experience/training with regard to this condition in adults? Have you attended any professional conferences on ADHD? [How long ago?]
Do you know anyone personally who has ADHD who has helped you understand the condition in real life (outside the office)?
Have you evaluated or treated adults with ADHD before? How about women with ADHD? What are the different considerations you take into account in an evaluation of women?
What protocols do you follow in conducting an ADHD evaluation? [See end note.]
Roughly, what percentage of your practice is with people with ADHD?
What is your ADHD treatment philosophy? Do you have a standard medication that you try first? [This is a trick question as it would depend on what sub-type you have as well as other factors.] How do you use ADHD medications differently for adults vs. children?
Once you make a diagnosis, do you make any recommendations for treatment in addition to medication? [They might mention nutrition, exercise, body work, sleep strategies, coaching, etc. You want to hear some broader awareness here.] Are you willing to work with me to identify the non-medication strategies that might also help me?
Do you speak to groups about ADHD? Are you a member of any professional ADHD associations? What resources are you aware of for adults with ADHD in this region?
If I’m working with an ADHD coach or professional organizer would you be willing to speak to them and work collaboratively?
Keep asking your question until you get a clear answer. On the other hand, keep your questions tight and move on when you get enough info or if you can tell there’s nothing more to get. These are busy people.
What if you realize they are not a fit?
Politely close the conversation if you can tell this isn’t someone you are willing to deal with. Do not wander into conversations about yourself. You first need to find out about them and to get a feel for whether this professional and their office is a potentially comfortable “fit” for you.
Footnotes + Sources
1 The two primary, US-based, international ADHD organizations both have on-line directories
The Attention Deficit Disorder Association, www.add.org
Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder, www.chadd.org
FYI, there is also an association of ADHD Coaches www.adhdcoaches.org
2 The assessor may want to see some or all of the following: the results of a recent and complete medical examination, plus health, school and employment records (not just current records but historical ones). Typically, the diagnostic process includes:
A Diagnostic Interview
History: health history, developmental history going back to early childhood, academic history, work history, family and marital history and social history.
Screening for ADHD symptoms
Screening for other possible psychiatric disorders
Information from independent sources: Family member/s, sometimes a willing co-worker
Standardized Behavior Rating Scales
Psychometric Testing may also be considered necessary
©2020 Denslow Brown, MCC; shared with full permission