Diagnosing ADHD in Children


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), previously known as ADD, is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects behavior and concentration. A child or young person with ADHD may seem unusually restless, impulsive, or distracted. In addition, their behavior may seem impulsive, they may need help staying organized, or they may find it difficult to focus and speak without thinking. Even though children and young people with ADHD may also have other conditions or mental health problems, ADHD is not a mental illness or a learning disability. Living with ADHD can be overwhelming for children, adolescents, and their parents and caregivers. The right diagnosis, treatment, and support can make a huge difference to a child’s learning, life skills, and relationships, along with making family life easier.

What Are the Most Common Symptoms of ADHD?

A child with ADHD may display the following symptoms:

  • Distracted easily, having difficulty starting or finishing tasks
  • Have difficulty concentrating
  • Restless or fidgety most of the time
  • Often interrupts or blurts out things, very talkative
  • Takes risks without considering consequences, impulsive, prone to acting without thinking
  • Easily angry or frustrated, unable to cope with emotions
  • Has difficulty forming or maintaining friendships
  • Lack of organization, such as losing things and being late

ADHD affects each child or young person differently, so they may not exhibit all of these behaviors. It is important to note that many of these traits and behaviors are typical of younger children or can result from a traumatic experience – they do not necessarily indicate your child has ADHD.

It is also possible for age and gender to affect how someone with ADHD behaves. Because of this, ADHD can be harder to spot, particularly in girls, who are more likely to be misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. It is common for ADHD symptoms to emerge in early childhood, and they may become more noticeable when a significant change occurs, such as starting or changing schools

How Is ADHD Diagnosed?

In order to diagnose ADHD, a qualified professional will use multiple evaluations and tests. ADHD cannot be diagnosed through simple observation or a brief interaction. A specialist can only diagnose ADHD after making a detailed assessment. Additionally, other conditions, such as learning disabilities or mood disorders, will need to be ruled out in some cases.

ADHD can be diagnosed using the following guidelines:

  • A child experiences symptoms in two or more settings, such as at home, school, and social settings.
  • There must be at least six symptoms present in a child aged 4-17 years old.
  • The child must show at least five symptoms if they are 17 or older.
  • As a result of their symptoms, your child has a difficult time functioning in some of the activities of daily life, such as schoolwork, relationships with you and siblings, relationships with friends, or being able to function in groups such as sports teams.
  • A child’s symptoms begin before they reach 12 years of age. In some cases, it may take a child until they are older to recognize these as ADHD symptoms.
  • The symptoms have been present for more than six months.

One of our qualified clinicians will follow these guidelines, talk to the parents and the child, take a detailed history of the child’s development, physical health, mental health, and behavior, and carefully consider other information, such as teacher and school reports. The assessment process often involves parents and educators completing questionnaires and checklists.

Additionally, our clinician might assess the child’s memory and attention. Clinicians might also observe a child in different settings, such as school, to determine how they behave in different envrionments.

Click here to learn more about ADHD Assesments at San Francisco Stress and Anxiety Center.

Treatment for ADHD in Kids

Several treatments are available for ADHD, including medication, behavioral therapy, and lifestyle changes.


It may be necessary to consider medication for children with ADHD to help them manage their symptoms every day. Additionally, it can help children control the behaviors that cause problems at school, with friends, and with family. Several types of medications are FDA-approved for treating ADHD in children, including:

  • Stimulants: Chemicals like methylphenidate or amphetamine boost dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain. They come in three forms: short-acting, intermediate-acting, and long-acting.
  • Non-Stimulants: Non-stimulants do not contain methylphenidate amphetamine; they use different active ingredients that have similar effects on ADHD symptoms and do not work as quickly.

Behavioral Therapy

As soon as a diagnosis is made, behavior therapy can help reduce disruptive behaviors. Behavior therapy aims to strengthen positive behaviors and eliminate undesirable ones. Some parents use behavioral therapy alongside medication to help their children manage their behaviors effectively. At SF Stress and Anxiety Center, we have a team of therapists dedicated to supporting children with ADHD.

It is common for parents and families to be involved with behavioral therapy, support their child in setting goals, and learn techniques and tools from the therapist so that they can apply them at home and school. Also, parents can learn how to deal with their child’s negative behavior effectively. Parents of children who suffer from ADHD notice a clear impact of cognitive behavioral therapy.

Lifestyle Changes

Even though taking the proper medical steps to support your child with ADHD is important, studies have shown that lifestyle changes can also impact their behavior. In order to help your child live a healthy lifestyle, follow these tips:

  •     Aim for one hour of physical activity per day. Exercise is associated with numerous benefits for ADHD. Children with ADHD can benefit from regular physical activity by improving their focus, avoiding distractions, and performing better in school.
  •     Limit screen time. Those with ADHD are much more likely to become addicted to the Internet than those without ADHD. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under two years old should avoid electronic media use, limit screen time to one to two hours per day, and keep TVs and other internet devices out of their rooms.
  •     Encouraging healthy sleep habits. Approximately 70% of children with ADHD have sleep problems. Not getting enough sleep can cause or worsen ADHD symptoms. You can help your child get a good night’s sleep by following a daily routine, limiting screen time before bed, and making sure the room is dark and comfortable.

Why Early Diagnosis Is So Important 

According to current estimates, up to 50% of children with ADHD also suffer from specific learning disabilities. As a result, they are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and self-destructive behavior. ADHD is associated with underachievement at school, as well as significant behavioral issues. Many children benefit from treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Researchers have described children with ADHD as being several years less emotionally mature than typical peers. To help the child make wise choices, both parents and the child may need additional support. Having an accurate diagnosis will allow your medical, psychological, and educational teams to assist your child most effectively. A thorough psychological evaluation is the key to successfully taking control of ADHD symptoms.
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