ADHD diagnosis made easy? Think again

April 29, 2010

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RE “DEVICE aims to perfect diagnosis for ADHD’’ (Business, April 24): Before diagnosing a child (or adult) with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, doctors want to know the “so what’’ of the attention problem. Is it affecting the child at school, at home, on the ball field? Are the expectations in all of these settings reasonable? Is the child getting enough sleep, are there stressors at home, is the child dyslexic or anxious? (All of these factors can mimic symptoms of ADHD.)

Diagnostic tests, such as the continuous performance test, have been in clinical use for years, as one way of measuring attention. Such tests are best used in the context of a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment that carefully looks at the whole child. Doctors know that without taking the time to get a detailed history, no diagnostic test in and of itself can be accurate.

So yes, the Quotient test has a good chance of being a “flop’’ if it is intended to replace careful assessment. ADHD is a complex condition, and children are complex creatures. Pretending otherwise will do our children a disservice.

Karen Spangenberg Postal
The writer is president of the Massachusetts Psychological Association.

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