How is ADHD diagnosed?
Nearly three million children in the United States are diagnosed with ADHD each year, according to the Mayo Clinic. This makes it one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in the nation. But many still see ADHD as a disorder that dissipates with age, or worse, one that was fabricated to rationalize how some children can’t keep still.
In reality, nearly 9 percent of University of Montana students, all adults, reported having been diagnosed with ADHD in the past year, according to the American College Health Association’s Spring 2016 National College Health Assessment of UM. Nationally about 7 percent of college students are diagnosed every year.
While in the past people were either diagnosed with attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, each related disorder now falls under the umbrella term, ADHD. Curry Health Center Clinical Psychologist Angie Cronin said a person with ADHD could fall into one of three subcategories: inattentive, hyperactive or combined.
People diagnosed with inattentive ADHD usually have difficulty sustaining concentration, Cronin said, and they lack focus in most areas of life. Those with hyperactive ADHD have difficulty sitting still and are often restless, Cronin said, while those with combined ADHD show symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity.
The testing process at Curry Health Center can take anywhere from four to six weeks. Cronin said the tests include various interviews about the patient’s childhood and school history — anything that could highlight ADHD-related symptoms. The testing guidelines at Curry also require an interview with people close to the student, usually parents, friends or roommates.
Then, Cronin said, the patient must complete a personality test, memory tests and an ADHD computer stimulant test.
“We try to do a pretty thorough testing battery,” Cronin said. “We’re trying to be careful because Adderall is a stimulant and people have been known to abuse it or sell it, which is also why we encourage counseling first when someone is diagnosed.”
Cronin said Curry helps students with ADHD work on behavioral skills, such as time management and study habits, and holds a mindfulness seminar where students are taught to “live in the present.”
Still, Cronin said medication is an important option, and not always a last resort. In that case, the psychologist, after positively diagnosing a student with ADHD, would refer the patient to a medical doctor within Curry who could prescribe an appropriate dosage of medication.
Waiting for an appointment to get tested for ADHD at Curry can take months, Cronin said, because the health center’s waiting list usually holds about 25 students per semester. Cronin said she encourages students who have been waiting to seek out other testing options in town.
While a full ADHD test costs about $275 at Curry, it could run up to $1,500 at other health centers in Missoula.
Nancy Ventresca, a licensed clinical professional counselor who has spent years testing patients for ADHD, said her testing process includes tests similar to those at Curry, but at a faster pace and higher price.
Ventresca said college students are typically more difficult to diagnose than young children, because they tend to be less hyperactive and more inattentive. She listens for the telltale signs of college kids with ADHD: They tend to lose things with frequency. They might read a whole chapter of a book, and then can’t remember what it said. They’re distracted easily. While taking a test, they can’t focus with someone nearby, especially if that person is chewing gum or tapping a pencil. They struggle to start projects, finish assignments and remember appointments.
The symptoms are mishaps any person could endure, but Ventresca said they come at a relentless rate in ADHD patients.
“I see college students who are in such distress, and they’ve tried everything they know to try,” Ventresca said. “It’s about how much distress it’s causing in their lives."