Who diagnoses ADHD? Comments on CNN story

CNN has run a story on the issue schools/teachers encouraging parents to get their child tested for ADHD and on medications. You can read it here. The writer quotes a doctor complaining about teachers who suggest diagnoses and treatment. Then parents go to their doctor and ask for meds to treat something that has yet to be properly diagnosed. Being a psychologist I am sympathetic with the Doc–but only to a point. True, many people fancy themselves as experts because a family member or some other experience with a mental health diagnosis. And so, whenever they see something that reminds them of it they talk as if they had done a thorough assessment. The Doc goes on to point out other problems that may create similar symptoms (anxiety, abuse, learning disabilities, etc.)–thus the need for professional evaluation.

But that is where my sympathy ends. Teachers do have front row seats to child problems. We need them to speak up. Yes, they needn’t throw out diagnoses as if they are experts. But we do want them to let parents know that something might be up and the need for further evaluation.

So, who should diagnose? Yes, ADHD is considered a medical diagnosis. But, counselors and psychologists are just as capable of making the diagnosis–sometimes even better.  If a Doc (psychiatrist, physician, etc.) makes the diagnosis, 9:10 times it is on the basis of 30 minutes to 1 hour of an interview with parent and child along with a physical examination. For most people with the symptoms, that is probably enough. However, most psychologists will collect data from 2-3 sources (parent, teacher, church) using interviews, checklists, psychological tests, and even computer based assessments. That kind of assessment may be more capable of ferreting out subtle learning disabilities or learning differences as well as developing a plan of action for changing the environment (school plans (IEP/504), parenting strategies, etc.

It is interesting that the article makes no mention of the use of counselors in this process.

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Filed under counseling skills, Psychiatric Medications, Psychology

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