How to Treat and Diagnose Attention Deficit Disorder

How do you diagnose ADD? When do you treat it? Are we creating a generation of drug addicts?

Rob Lamberts, MD
7-minute read
Episode #23

A few weeks ago, I did an article that talked about attention deficit disorder from my own unique perspective: I have it. This week I am going to cover more of the details about this condition, specifically how it is diagnosed and how it is treated. If you didn’t read the last article on ADD, it would be a good idea to do so before reading this. I will be very disappointed with you if you don’t.

How is Attention Deficit Disorder Diagnosed?

OK, so how do you know a person has attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity? The diagnosis is not made using a stethoscope or that thingy you use to look in the ears, but by asking questions. Hearing the story from the person is important, but perhaps more important is the view of their parents, spouse, teachers and/or employers.

There are a number of criteria used to make the ADD diagnosis, and the most widely accepted are those of the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders--commonly referred to as the DSM IV. That manual defines the characteristics of the two varieties of ADD: inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive. What’s the difference between the two? I’ll put all of the criteria in the show notes at the bottom of the page, but it basically comes down to how a person reacts to losing focus. Some people drift off into the outer reaches of space, while others fidget and go from thing to thing to thing. Inattentive type tends to happen in girls, while the hyperactive flavor tends to be in boys. The root problem is still the same: lack of focus, and both are referred to as ADD.

Having parents and teachers fill out a Connors or Vanderbilt questionnaire is how many physicians and psychologists make the ADD diagnosis. There are a number of tests for adults as well. All of these tests are flawed, however, in that the person doesn’t have to be truthful when they fill them out. That is why I usually get several people’s perspective when making the diagnosis. The more the merrier.


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