“The rational approach to treatment is based on the accuracy of the diagnosis, and I can’t stress that enough. It’s critical that an adequate amount of time be spent to do a comprehensive evaluation.”

David W. Goodman, MD Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Director, Adult Attention Deficit Disorder Center of Maryland

Adult ADD is too complex to be adequately diagnosed during a quick office visit with a mental healthcare provider, but this is unfortunately how many adult ADD diagnoses are carried out. Your mental healthcare provider may use the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to determine if you meet the criteria for an adult ADD diagnosis, or may use other tools such as the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale, the Connor’s Adult ADHD Rating Scale or the Copeland Symptom List for adult ADD.

These tools focus on common ADD symptoms like disorganization, forgetfulness, and inattention—an “inside the box” approach to adult ADD diagnosis. They may not take into account the fact that:

  • “Attentional capacity” exists on a spectrum–even though subjective diagnostic tools indicate you either have it, or you don’t.
  • Several physical conditions, medications and other substances can have negative effects that mimic ADD symptoms.
  • Adults with ADD often suffer from comorbidities, or co-existing conditions, like mood or personality disorders, which can make an accurate ADD diagnosis very challenging.
  • Mental health diagnoses can be influenced by the patient’s race, ethnicity, cultural background and gender.

That’s why Adult ADD Central promotes thinking “outside the box” about mental health diagnosis. This means: 

  • Recognizing that every adult has his or her own unique biological make-up, identity, culture, personal history, and day-to-day experiences, all of which play a role in emotional and mental health.
  • Acknowledging that attentional capacity exists on a spectrum, and each individual’s attentional capacity is different.
  • Going beyond standard ADD symptom checklists to consider how factors like stress, work environment, socioeconomic status and prior trauma affect one’s mental and emotional health.
  • Taking the time to listen to an individual’s whole story–not just looking at symptoms that might be caused by ADD.

Before speaking to a mental healthcare professional, it may help to go through the Adult ADD Central Clinical Assessment Preparation Guide, which prompts you to think about several factors that might be influencing your mental and emotional health, and perhaps contributing to ADD symptoms. The more information about these factors you provide to your mental healthcare provider, the more likely you are to receive an appropriate diagnosis–and appropriate treatment.

Read more about the factors that can affect mental health and complicate ADD diagnoses below:

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Is It Really ADD?

Is It Only ADD?

Sleep Deficits and Disorders

ADD and Trauma

Socioeconomic Inequality