ADHD Assessment: What to Expect

Article | March 2018

ADHD Assessment: What to Expect

Attention–deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood disorders. About 10% of all school-aged children may be affected.1

Children with ADHD have trouble controlling their behavior. They may struggle in school and social settings. And they often fail to achieve their full academic potential. Children with ADHD are easily distracted. They might struggle to pay attention and follow directions. They may also be overly active, or have poor self-control.

How is it diagnosed?

An ADHD assessment requires information from several people. Your child’s main health care provider will collect this information. They will use it to form a ‘picture’ of your child. This allows them to make a diagnosis and create a treatment plan.

Who should assess my child?

An ADHD assessment should be done by an experienced health care provider. The best choice is a psychiatrist, pediatrician, primary care provider, psychologist, or therapist. Your selection should depend on factors such as:

  • Your child's symptoms
  • The complexity of the symptoms
  • Whether medication is needed

The following chart shows the differences between each type of professional.

Type of Professional

Able to Assess and Diagnose?

Able to Prescribe?







Primary care provider









If your child is five years old or younger, medication may not be the right choice.2 It's best to have a young child assessed by a developmental pediatrician or a child psychiatrist. They may want to try behavioral interventions before other treatments.

What is a diagnostic assessment?

A complete assessment for ADHD involves:

Gathering information. Information about your child will be gathered from key people. These include teachers, school counselors, day care providers, health care providers, family, and friends. This information will be weighed against the ADHD criteria. It will also be used to rule out other conditions, such as:

  • Childhood depression or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Learning disabilities
  • Hearing and visual problems
  • Age appropriate behaviors of childhood
  • Poor learning environment, which might include:
    • Mismatched level of schoolwork and intelligence
    • Mismatched learning style with the teaching approach in the classroom
    • Over-crowded classroom
    • Too many high maintenance students in the classroom
  • Medical illnesses, such as petit mal seizures or middle ear infection

Diagnostic testing. If more information is needed, other assessments or tests may be used. These could include:

  • Neuropsychological or psychological testing
  • Academic, intelligence, and learning skills testing
  • Hearing and visual testing

The health care provider uses all this information. It helps them to decide on the diagnosis. Then a treatment plan is developed for your child. The family may be involved with behavioral treatment. This can be an effective approach. Evaluation forms may be used to measure baseline symptoms. This way, progress can be noted as treatment continues.

Grandfather and Granddaughter Laughing on Couch

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Behavior Therapy First for Young Children with ADHD

Additional Source: National Institute of Health (2016). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

This material is provided by Cigna for informational/educational purposes only. It is not medical/clinical advice. Only a health care provider can make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment plan. For more information about your behavioral health benefits, you can call the member services or behavioral health telephone number listed on your health care ID card.