Diagnosing ADHD, What the Tests For ADHD Tell Us.

If you or your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, there is an exceedingly good chance that your health care provider used a behavioral checklist to confirm the diagnosis. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians have parents and teachers fill out a symptoms checklist and then if there are enough ADHD symptom boxes checked then 'Voila' a diagnosis is born.

There are major problems with behavior checklist .  The biggest problem is that they are only right about 60 percent of the time. Russell Barkley Ph.D., who has studied ADHD extensively, reports that parents and teachers agree on behavioral checklist only about 35 percent of the time. There are diagnostic alternatives that are more accurate and more quantitative. The alternatives include functional Spect scanning, functional MRI, and the ADHD Quotient test.

Dr. Daniel Amen, a very busy ADHD health care provider uses a system of study called spectrometry scanning. Spectrometry scans use infrared probes on the head to chart a picture of brain blood flow. Dr. Amen claims that he can tell what subtype of ADHD the patient is suffering from as well as determining the degree of symptoms that a patient is suffering based on the Spect scan picture. Dr. Amen has been criticized because he has made lots of money scanning folks with ADHD but other physicians have mapped out the brain pathology of ADHD using Spect scans and have also concluded that a diagnosis of ADHD can be made based on blood flow.

Functional MRI also gives you a picture of the active portions of the brain using magnetic imaging. These tests are also expensive but they also give a picture of the part of the brain that is causing problematic symptoms in ADHD.

The ADHD Quotient system is being used at the Hallowell ADHD centers. Dr. Ned Hallowell has written several books on ADHD including one that I consider a bible called Delivered from Distraction.
This ADHD test is performed with motion sensors and a computer and is able to quantitatively track inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Studies show that it is very accurate in diagnosing ADHD.
A new study has shown that this system can accurately diagnose ADHD in adults as well as children, which is exiting because it was previously thought that adults with ADHD would be harder to diagnose using a system such as this one.

I think that we have reached a point in the history of ADHD where behavioral checklists seem archaic. The use of these other, alternative ADHD diagnostic tools seems more appropriate. Insurance companies will continue to balk at covering these tests though until the medical community admits that behavioral checklist are simply to inaccurate to continue to be used as the gold standard.

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  1. Whether or not I myself have ADHD (waiting to see a specialist) I believe that these approaches, as well as the genetics issue you brought up in a previous blog, are absolutely the way forward. The behavioural checklist should not be discarded however, but would instead paint a broader picture of the individuals difficulties. This issue, coincidentally, came up in a recent assessment for Aspergers, where it occurred to me that the main area in which I experience problems; face to face verbal communication, was the predominant source of diagnostic information.

  2. Thanks Bryan for your comment. I agree that the checklist are useful. They are more useful as you state for learning the areas of behavior that need help than in making a diagnosis. Tess


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