Is it possible to be diagnosed with ADHD even if your child only has a few of the symptoms?
This is a question that many worried parents ask about their hyperactive or inattentive children. The first thing you need to know about ADHD is that it is a very individual experience; some kids may have a lot of symptoms while some will only have a few. No two children will have the exact same symptoms or problems. The diagnosis, however, should depend on much more than just the quantity of the symptoms.
Generally speaking, the symptoms of ADHD are lumped into three main categories – hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. Hyperactivity is the most easily detected symptom because it manifests itself as restless, fidgety behavior. Impulsivity is also easily detected; kids with more of this symptom have difficulty waiting their turn or a tendency to interrupt others who are speaking. Inattention is characterized by distractibility, forgetfulness, and is usually noticed when a normally brilliant child suddenly has low grades.
ADHD is traditionally diagnosed through a checklist of symptoms published by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. There are two lists – one for inattentive symptoms, and one for hyperactive-impulsive symptoms. Both lists have nine criteria each. To get diagnosed with primarily Inattentive ADHD, one has to meet at least six out of nine criteria. The same goes for hyperactive-impulsive ADHD; one has to meet at least six out of nine criteria from this list. For combined ADHD, a child has to meet 12 criteria from both lists. Additionally, the symptoms should have been present before the age of 7, in two settings, and should be causing academic difficulties, emotional distress, and difficulties in the family for at least six months.
Technically, it is possible to get diagnosed with ADHD if your child only has six inattentive symptoms or six hyperactive-impulsive symptoms. However, these symptoms are not unique to ADHD; they can also point to a number of related conditions like anxiety or depression. They can even suggest a completely unrelated disorder like learning disabilities, nutritional imbalances, and sensory integration problems. In other words, the ADHD diagnostic process should involve more tests than just checking to see if the symptoms are there. Otherwise, your child could get misdiagnosed and treated for the wrong disorder – and this won’t make the symptoms go away.
So if your child has difficulties paying attention, sitting still, or controlling impulses, by all means see a professional to see if there is anything wrong. But do not automatically assume that these symptoms point to ADHD.