1-minute summary: Early identification of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) means that the right support and treatment can be provided and start to have a positive effect.
ADHD affects children and adults in a variety of ways. It is often associated with three core aspects: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. If left untreated, ADHD can lead to problems with self-esteem, building and maintaining healthy relationships, realising full educational potential, and achieving a rewarding career .
However, none of these outcomes are set in stone. In fact, 72% of people who are treated for ADHD experience favourable outcomes from their treatment . But, across the same comparison of studies, people with ADHD who are left untreated are nearly three times more likely to experience poorer long-term outcomes.
Nevertheless, the average delay from first concern to proper diagnosis in Europe is four years . That delay can mean that children, young people or adults with ADHD do not get the support and/or treatment that they require – and this in turn could even result in their condition getting worse.
So early and effective diagnosis is critical – at whatever age. With ADHD, it’s not simply a case of taking a blood sample and sending it off to the lab for testing. In fact, the most effective diagnoses look for “clusters” of symptoms connected with inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. When these impair the person’s functioning an ADHD diagnosis may be made . Objective testing helps to improve the accuracy and efficiency of ADHD assessments made by qualified healthcare professionals [5,6].
Effective testing is also used to ensure that ADHD is not misdiagnosed as some other kind of behavioural disorder – such as oppositional-defiant or conduct disorders. While it is true that, left undiagnosed, children with ADHD can sometimes develop further behavioural issues, such behavioural issues do not by themselves develop “into” ADHD.
Some families worry about putting a “label” on their children and that there is a stigma associated with the condition. In fact, of greater concern is delay to diagnosis. In an analysis of long-term outcomes comparing people treated for ADHD and those who were not treated, the large majority of people in the treatment group reported improved self-esteem, social function and academic outcomes .
There is a wide variety of treatment options available that include cognitive behavioural management and medication. Step one is getting the right diagnosis, if you are concerned that you or your child have ADHD you should actively seek an assessment with a qualified healthcare professional.
- Coghill, D. (2005) Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: Should we believe the mass media or peer-reviewed literature? Psychiatric Bulletin, 29, 288
- Shaw and Hodgkins et al. (2012) A systematic review and analysis of long-term outcomes in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: effects of treatment and non-treatment. BMC Medicine, Volume 10, Number 1, Page 1
- Ralston SJ et al Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2004;13 Suppl 1:I36-42. ADORE — Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Observational Research in Europe.
- National Institue of Mental Health ( http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/index.shtml)
- Vogt, C., & Shameli, A. (2011). Assessments for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: use of objective measurements.
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- Hall, C. L., Selby, K., Guo, B., Valentine, A. Z., Walker, G. M. and Hollis, C. (2016), Innovations in Practice: an objective measure of attention, impulsivity and activity reduces time to confirm attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder diagnosis in children. Child Adolesc Ment Health, 21: 175–178. doi:10.1111/camh.12140
- https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg72/evidence/adhd-full-guideline-241963165 p.102-3