I want to learn more about getting an evaluation for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Where do I start?
Note: NAMI volunteers are not medical or mental health professionals; we cannot offer medical or mental health advice. The material outlined below is informational, and we hope that it helps provide guidance toward getting support.
Do you ever feel like you move through the world differently than others do? Maybe it's tough for you to understand and connect with other people. Your interests might not be the same as your friends', or you may feel more sensitive to loud sounds or strange textures than others are. If you’ve experienced any of these things, you might relate to people who have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This article will give you a basic understanding of these conditions, what it means to have a neurodevelopmental disorder, or to be “neurodivergent,” and initial steps you can take to get an evaluation for ADHD or ASD.
What is attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?
Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects a person’s focus, attention, and activity. There are three types of ADHD – inattentive type, hyperactive/impulsive type, and combined type. The symptoms related to each type are listed below:
- Inattentive type: loses or misplaces things, easily distracted, forgetful, difficulty with tasks that take a lot of time and focus, challenges with organization, lack of attention to small details, trouble paying attention or closely following instructions
- Hyperactive/impulsive type: restless, fidgets or can’t sit still, leaves seat unexpectedly, interrupts others on accident, tends to talk excessively, acts impulsively (quickly without thinking of the consequences), accidentally interrupts others, trouble waiting turns
- Combined type: symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity
Trouble focusing, having a lot of energy, or being forgetful are things that can happen to anyone. Experiencing these from time to time doesn’t necessarily mean that you have ADHD. To be diagnosed with ADHD, symptoms of the condition must have shown up before you were12 years old and must have some effect on your ability to get things done and get along with other people.
What is autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition that affects people’s communication, social skills, and behavior. If you have ASD, you might find back-and-forth conversations challenging, navigate friendships differently, and have very specific preferences and routines. Characteristics of ASD include:
- Communication: trouble with back-and-forth conversations, infrequently start conversations with others, difficulty relating to others’ emotions, challenges communicating verbally, unable to communicate verbally, atypical or absent facial expressions, considered “blunt” by others
- Social skills: discomfort with eye contact, lack of interest in sharing thoughts or opinions with others, less interest in friendships, approach friendships differently, challenges understanding other peoples’ emotions
- Behavior: fixations on very specific interests, desire to have routines and environment remain the same, behavioral rituals performed daily, repetitive movements or behaviors (“stims”) that help with self-soothing
This condition is called autism spectrum disorder because it can show up very differently for each person. Autism symptoms exist on a “spectrum”; some people with ASD find it a little hard to talk to others, while some may not talk at all. Certain people with ASD might feel bothered by strong lights and loud noises, while others can't be around any bright lights or loud sounds without using special gear like glasses or headphones.
Both ADHD and ASD are called “neurodevelopmental disorders,” and people with one or both conditions are often referred to as “neurodivergent”. This is because your brain organizes and responds to information differently when you have ADHD or ASD. These differences can bring challenges, but they also bring unique strengths. Neurodivergent people and their loved ones learn toorganize, communicate, and presentinformation in unique and creative ways so things like friendships,parties, school, andworkare accessible for people with neurodevelopmental disordersjustas they would be for anyone else.
Sometimes, symptoms of other mental health conditions can look like symptoms of ADHD or ASD. For example, many people with social anxiety disorder don’t like eye contact and have trouble making friends. Some people with depression have very little motivation to complete tasks and have trouble staying organized. People diagnosed with bipolar disorder often act impulsively without thinking of the consequences. It’s important to receive a proper evaluation to rule out the possibility of other mental health conditions, physical health concerns, or learning disabilities that cause symptoms similar to ADHD or ASD.
How can I get evaluated for ADHD or ASD?
A diagnosis of ADHD or ASD requires an evaluation from a primary care provider (PCP), a psychiatrist, or a psychologist. They conduct a thorough assessment that involves gathering information from you, your parents or caregivers, and your teachers to determine if you have the condition. This process is called “psychological testing.” If you would like to get an evaluation for ADHD or ASD, here are a few suggestions on where to start:
- Ask your parent or guardian to schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor (PCP). Your doctor can help make sure your symptoms aren’t due to a medical condition and can refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist that can do psychological testing. Some PCPs are comfortable diagnosing and prescribing medication for ADHD themselves.
- Find a healthcare professional who specializes in ASD, ADHD, neurodevelopmental disorders, or psychological testing. Your parent or guardian may be able to schedule an appointment directly without a referral from your doctor. If you have insurance, your parents can call the number on the back of the insurance card to request a list of providers who do psychological testing.
- If ASD or ADHD is impacting your performance at school, your parents can submit a written request for an evaluation from your school. If the evaluation finds that you have the condition and that it causes impairment in your academic or social functioning, the school should work with you and your family to come up with a learning plan that helps you to be successful. The following resources offer more information on requesting a psychological evaluation through your school:
- CHADD Educational Rights page provides an overview of academic accommodations for students with ADHD that may be guaranteed through Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Includes a sample letter that parents can use to request an evaluation for academic accommodations through their child's school.
- Understood.org - Accommodations: What they are and how they work webpage offers helpful information about different types of academic accommodations, quick tips, and next steps you can take to get help with accommodations in high school, college, or the workplace.
Resources for Living Well with a Neurodevelopmental Disorder
- NAMI ADHD page provides an overview of ADHD, treatment options, and support.
- ADDitude Magazine is an online magazine that offers information about ADHD symptoms, treatment, and support, learning and organization tips, and other resources for living well with ADHD.
- Children & Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) is an organization that provides specific information on ADHD treatment options and provides online support communities for people living with ADHD and their family members. Their information line can be reached at (800) 233-4050 Monday-Friday, 1 to 5 p.m. ET.
- NAMI Autism page provides an overview of ASD, treatment options, and support.
- Autism Society connects individuals and families affected by autism to the resources they need through community programming, education, advocacy, support, information and referral. Autism Society offers a national helpline to learn about resources and services in your area, and a “Find an Affiliate” locator where individuals/caregivers can find local resources and support groups. Autism Society also accepts Spanish language calls and can be reached at (800) 328-8476 (ext. 2) Monday through Friday from 9am to 8pm ET.
- Autism Speaks provides resources to individuals living with autism and their family members, including an information line and a support group locator. Contact information for each different chapter can be found on their website.
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