Eleven Tips for Finding Good Diagnosis and Treatment of ADHD

Confused about getting a diagnosis for ADHD or finding the right doctor?

Posted Dec 08, 2010

Someone has suggested you might have ADHD, or you wonder about it yourself.  What's your next step?  Here are some tips that can help you sort through whether or not you should get a diagnosis and finding the right person to do it.

1. Don't let your spouse evaluate you. ADHD resembles other syndromes. You deserve a professional evaluation before assuming it's ADHD.  A good evaluation consists of, at a minimum: asking a series of questions to determine your match to ADHD symptoms; an in-depth history; questions to rule out other options such as sleep issues or just being too busy.  For an easy-to-understand overview of symptoms, go to this link.

2. If your spouse says he or she thinks you have ADHD, take that person seriously and go find out. The motivation for the comment is almost always that there are parts of your relationship that are not working well for your partner. If you discover you have ADHD you can start treating it and start addressing the role that ADHD symptoms might play in your relationship. If you don't have ADHD then your partner needs to find a different way of looking at your problems. Either way, you win.

3. Treat your ADHD fully. Medication is not a magic pill - it can provide a way to focus better by increasing dopamine levels in your brain, but it's what you do with that focus that is where the rubber hits the road for you. That means you'll need to teach yourself at least some new habits - replacing old coping strategies that aren't in your best interests. Others, such as counselors, coaches and books, can give you ideas about ADHD-friendly strategies that might work well for how your particular brain works. Use non-medicinal treatments as well. Fish oil and exercise have both been shown in reliable scientific studies to improve focus. They are not as effective as medications, but still helpful and - a benefit - good for you in other ways, too.

4. Don't be surprised if you have to try a number of medications. Effective medicinal treatment for ADHD varies from person to person. Finding just the right medication and dosage often means doctor-supervised experimentation until you find what works well without side effects. The good news is that 70-80% of adults can find a medication that helps mitigate their ADHD symptoms without major side-effects.

5. Don't assume it's just ADHD. Fully eighty percent of those with ADHD will have some other mental health issue at some point in his or her lifetime. Common additional disorders include Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD); Conduct Disorder (CD); alcohol and drug abuse disorders; anxiety and panic disorders; depression and its milder form, dysthymia, and more.

6. Don't just try harder, try differently. You know you've often tried hard but sometimes not been very successful.  So, as you teach yourself new habits (the behavioral change part of treatment), don't just keep doing what you've done before.  Now that you know about ADHD, you can think about ADHD-friendly ways to do things.  For example, create external structures that will help you stay organized or set alarms to remind you of tasks at the time they need to be done. Don't be afraid to craft a totally new approach that works for you - people with ADHD can often be very creative about how they approach something. Just make sure to measure whether or not you complete whatever it is you've been trying to do.

7. Interview your potential doctor. Two of the best resources for finding doctors who can assess whether or not you have ADHD include this Psychology Today site and your local CHADD chapter (find one here). Use the former to find someone geographically near you who claims to know about ADHD. If you have a CHADD chapter near you, they usually have lists of local providers (they have a policy of providing a list rather than making specific recommendations). Once you have a few names, ask about the doctor's experience with ADHD.

8. Don't work with a doctor who says "if the meds work then we'll know you have ADHD." Any adult, ADHD or not, will find that taking stimulant medication will improve focus so this approach is not appropriate for diagnosing ADHD. If your doctor says something like this, find someone else.

9. Trust your instincts and do your homework. If at any time you feel uncomfortable with how you are being treated, find someone else. As one doctor put it "if I were to do today with my ADHD patients what I was taught in medical school I would consider it malpractice!" Treatment is uneven in quality in this field, so educate yourself by reading several books on ADHD, then follow your gut.  If you hate to read, as some with ADHD do, good ADHD books such as Delivered from Distraction, are also available in audiobook format.

10. Make sure your doctor gets to know you. If your doctor just seems to be pushing pills and not asking you about your progress, find someone else to help you explore the life changes you are making. Some people use their normal doctor for obtaining medication while working with a therapist or psychologist, neither or whom can typically prescribe medications, to learn to better accommodate their ADHD. Since pills alone won't optimize your treatment, this is often a good way to approach treatment.

11. Don't let naysayers slow your progress. Those who are angry with you may jump on you at the first failed attempts at improvement, which can be really discouraging and make you think that little has changed or you can't do it. But with treatment you have a new set of tools to change your life for the better. You can do it!