Young children often have varying personalities and energy levels, and as a result may display normal behaviors that appear to be signs of ADHD. Due to this, and the fact that symptoms can vary from child to child, the disorder can be quite difficult to diagnose. There is no single test to make a diagnosis, but health professionals will most likely use the following to come to a conclusion:

  •  as a tool to help evaluate your child.
  •  to eliminate the possibility of other disorders or conditions.
  •  for family members, teachers, and others who frequently interact with you child.
  •  (school records, medical history, etc.) to help in gathering more information.

In order to be diagnosed with ADHD, your child must meet the criteria published in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Health professionals use the DSM in the process of diagnosing a child. A shortened version of the DSM criteria in checklist form can be found on the CDC website. In order for a child to receive a diagnosis of ADHD, they must have 6 or more signs from one or both of the categories:



  • Has difficulty focusing on a particular thing (forgets things, misses details, switches from one activity to another)
  • Is frequently bored with tasks after a few min
  • Daydreams often
  • Is easily confused and has trouble processing information quickly
  • Has difficulty following instructions
  • Struggles to complete and hand in assignments
  • Does not appear to listen when spoken to
  • Has trouble with organizing and learning new things

Hyperactivity / Impulsivity


  • Has trouble sitting still (during dinner, story time, etc.)
  • Is constantly moving around
  • Is unable to perform quiet tasks or activities
  • Fidgets and squirms excessively
  • Touches and plays with everything that is in sight
  • Has difficulty waiting for things or his/her turn
  • Interrupt others’ conversations or activities
  • Shows emotions without restraint
  • Blurts out inappropriate comments
  • Disregards consequences of actions

In addition to the DSM criteria, children must also meet a few other criteria to receive a diagnosis. They must have several ADHD symptoms in two or more settings such as at home, school, or while participating in other activities. Symptoms must clearly demonstrate an interference with behavior/functioning at school, home, etc. Symptoms must not be explained by other medical conditions or mental disorders. When evaluating a child, health professionals pay attention to his/her behavior in different situations. How they behave in certain academic, social, and home settings can be indicative of ADHD or a larger, underlying learning disability.

Some children may have other conditions with signs and symptoms that resemble those of ADHD or even have other illnesses alongside ADHD. These conditions could include:

  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Tourette Syndrome
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Seizure Disorders
  • Sleep Disorders
  • Vision or Hearing Problems
  • Thyroid medication

Next Steps

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