ADHD diagnosis has five components: symptoms, age of onset, generalization, impact, and differentiation. Here’s how I’d suggest assessing all five components.
Do you have enough symptoms of ADHD often enough? Doctors use a questionnaire like this, but it can be complicated to score. An online quiz will ask similar questions but score it for you.
2. Age of Onset
Since ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, it has to have been present as your brain developed—before age 12. (The only exception is if you have secondary ADHD from a traumatic brain injury—you definitely should not be self-diagnosing a traumatic brain injury. Go to the hospital! Now!)
Ask family member, friends, and old teachers what you were like before age 12. Did you get in trouble for talking out of turn or getting out of your seat in the middle of class? Was your room always a mess? Did you often injure yourself attempting daredevil stunts? Did you daydream when you should have been thinking about other things? Did you have a hard time memorizing times tables and spelling even though you didn’t generally have trouble with math and writing? All those things point to ADHD symptoms in childhood.
Are most of the symptoms that you discovered in part 1 present in at least two parts of your life? For example, if you have trouble paying attention in classes but not paying attention to films, conversations, or cooking, you might just have boring classes. If you’re only hyper and impulsive with your friends but not in other situations, you might just have a high-energy friend group. In other words, if you think you have ADHD, do you always feel you have ADHD, or do you only feel like you have ADHD in one situation?
Is there “clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with, or reduce the quality of, social, school, or work functioning”? Are your grades worse than they should be? Have you lost friends because you’ve insulted them without thinking? Have you been reprimanded for inattention or forgetfulness at work? Have you caused multiple car accidents or gotten several traffic citations? Basically, are these ADHD symptoms causing you actual problems?
This is the part that everyone skips over, and it is the most important. ADHD symptoms are not unique. Many physical and mental health problems can cause the exact same symptoms. You need to check out these too. For example, if you are getting less than eight hours of sleep a night, you’re basically giving yourself ADHD. Put your phone on blocking mode, place the phone far away from your bed, and go the f—— to sleep!
If you can, go to your doctor and get some blood tests: a Comprehensive Metabolic Panel, a Complete Blood Count, and a Thyroid Panel. Those tests should identify quite a few of the physical disorders that can cause ADHD symptoms. Have your vision (near, far, and astigmatism), hearing, and auditory processing checked. Sleep disorders are another thing you should look into if putting your f——ing phone down isn’t solving your sleep problems.
For mental health problems, I’d recommend taking a few screening quizzes; here are links to one for depression, one for anxiety, one for OCD, one for bipolar disorder, and one for sensory processing disorder. It is entirely possible to mistake one of these conditions for ADHD, and it is entirely possible to have one of these conditions and ADHD. If your score suggests a high probability that you have one of these conditions, check out mentalillnessmouse for information on what to do next.
Autism and learning disabilities can also be mistaken for ADHD, and they are both really complicated. Here are some steps for figuring out whether your symptoms are better explained by autism. There are so many learning disabilities that it is hard to link to a quiz—schools usually have the resources for learning disability diagnoses, and an educational psychologist is the person to see about learning disability diagnosis if you’re not in school.
Yes, this is a lot of work.
Diagnosis is complicated and takes time. Understanding yourself and your brain is worth it, though!