At What Age Can ADHD Be Diagnosed?

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What is ADHD?

It’s common for children to forget to do their homework, daydream in class, act without thinking, or fidget at the dinner table. But inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity can also be signs of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

If you suspect your child may have ADHD, you may also be wondering at what age a proper diagnosis can be made.

ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental disorder affecting 2.0% to 16.0% of the school-age population worldwide. It’s estimated that in South Africa, one in 20 children and at least 1-million adults suffer from ADHD.  The disorder is most commonly diagnosed in childhood and lasts into adulthood.

Most children can be diagnosed with behavioural, social, or developmental issues at or around five years old.

“Diagnosing ADHD in children under the age of five is extremely difficult. That’s because many pre-schoolers are naturally distracted at their age, hyperactive, and impulsive. Additionally, children change at a rapid rate during the preschool years,” explains Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.

“As children get older, unusual behavioural, social, or developmental issues become more apparent. Many children with ADHD start experiencing educational difficulties at about Grade 3 level (eight or nine years old). Without support, these children may fall behind in school and experience significant setbacks impacting on their overall functioning and development.”

How is ADHD diagnosed in children?

There is no simple test that can determine if your child has ADHD, but following a thorough evaluation, your doctor or health care provider can provide an accurate diagnosis.

A physical examination may be part of the evaluation, which can help rule out other possible reasons for your child’s symptoms. If need be, your child’s doctor may refer you to a child psychiatrist, developmental pediatrician, or trained psychologist experienced in the field of ADHD.

ADHD symptoms are often classified into three different types:
  • Hyperactive/impulsive type: Children can be both hyperactive and impulsive, yet they can generally pay attention.
  • Inattentive type:These children are not overly active. Their symptoms may go unnoticed because they do not disrupt the classroom or other activities.
  • Combined type (inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive): This type of ADHD manifests symptoms from both groups and is the most common form of ADHD.

Parents need to know that their child’s symptoms can change over time, so the type of ADHD your child is first diagnosed with may as they grow older.

Medication, behaviour therapy, counselling, and educational programmes are all common treatments for ADHD in children.

Many of the symptoms of ADHD can be alleviated with these therapies, but they do not cure the condition. Finding out what works best for your child may take some time.

“Determining whether or whether a child has ADHD is a multi-step process. If you’re concerned that your child may have ADHD, the first step is to consult with a doctor to see if your child’s symptoms match the diagnosis,” concludes Hewlett.

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