How To Get Your Child Or Teen An ADHD Evaluation & Diagnosis

TikTok shouldn't be your go-to source for mental health advice, though it can be a good reminder that ADHD is manageable and treatable.

How to Get Your Child or Teen a Proper ADHD Evaluation & Diagnosis christinarosepix | Shutterstock

With summer in full swing, this is the time that many parents get their kids tested for ADHD so they’re ready for the next school year.

But, you can do this testing any time of the year, so don’t worry about when you’re doing it. The goal is to get your child accurately evaluated so you have both peace of mind and a plan.

For children and teens up to age 18, receiving an accurate diagnosis of ADHD can be a complicated, confusing and frustrating experience. Often parents receive contradictory or inadequate information about the process and navigating the maze towards diagnosis and treatment can be perplexing. In particular, the tween and teen years are development stages when trouble with attention, organization and distractibility come to the forefront.  


As kids switch classes, confront more complex academic work, cope with social dynamics and pursue extracurricular activities, their lives demand that they develop and apply more sophisticated executive functioning skills. So it’s common to see challenges, anxiety and even depression when they struggle to keep up.

Typically, there are three ways to obtain a diagnosis of ADHD and, quite honestly, TikTok is not one of those paths. While social media may alert your adolescent that some of their difficulties might meet the criteria for ADHD, it is not a reliable source of a diagnosis. 

Trained medical care providers and others in the mental health field can help. Whichever route you choose, make sure the person really understands and has significant experience with ADHD and that they conduct a thorough individual and family history with you and your child.


RELATED: 4 Reasons ADHD Kids Say 'I Hate School' — And 4 Real Ways Parents Can Help

Here are three reliable sources to help you get an ADHD diagnosis for your child

1. Primary care providers

If you think your child’s issues might be related to attention, you may have already started researching ADHD on your own. Start by talking with your primary care provider or pediatrician because they have likely known your child for years and been advising you all along.

They will probably give you some forms to fill out with rating scales (and take to the school) to get a sense of daily functioning and trouble spots and talk with each of you about behavioral, emotional and cognitive issues.

If the forms indicate ADHD, they may refer you for counseling, coaching or a psychoeducational evaluation (private or through the school district), discuss medication options with you or give you the name of a local psychiatrist.

RELATED: How To Identify (And Solve) Your ADHD Child's Big Challenges — So They Can Finally Succeed


2. Mental health professionals

Whether your child or teen is already in therapy or has just been referred, your licensed counselor, social worker or therapist will want to conduct an assessment of their primary concerns and symptoms to determine a diagnosis and create a treatment plan. Like your pediatrician, this provider will usually conduct a thorough developmental and family history and give you forms similar to the ones that the pediatrician uses before making a diagnosis.

Often, they will consult with your pediatrician, your child’s classroom teachers and other school personnel. If the therapist or psychiatrist has additional concerns or thinks more data is warranted, they may also recommend "testing," especially to rule out any learning issues or for clarification of what’s going on.

Some psychiatrists offer therapy in addition to prescribing medication and others only focus on medication management. All of these folks are capable of diagnosing ADHD. However, only psychologists and neuropsychologists are trained to do formal psychoeducational evaluations (e.g. testing) although speech and language pathologists (SLP) and special education teachers can conduct smaller, more specific tests.

These evaluations include assessments of cognitive functioning (including verbal, visual-motor, working memory and processing speed), other visual, verbal, math and written skills, grade-level competencies and emotional issues. These evaluations can be extremely informative to you and to your teen because they provide a glimpse into how your child’s brain works as well as its strengths and challenges.

When you choose a private evaluation (as opposed to testing through the school), you have more control over the person who does it. But, make sure the evaluator takes the necessary time to explain the results thoroughly to you. These reports can be dense, confusing and overwhelming. Ask all of your questions and request a follow-up meeting if you need it.

RELATED: 3 Biggest Signs Your Child Has ADHD

3. School resources

Many parents first learn about their child’s challenges with concentration and focus from a classroom teacher, school counselor or principal. While these conversations can be painful, the information that educators share is an important piece of the puzzle for why your child is struggling in school.

Public schools in the USA are allowed to name issues related to attention, concentration and memory but they cannot legally diagnose ADHD since it is considered a health issue. However, they are mandated under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to assess students for possible learning disabilities, including ADHD, and, if there are conditions that interfere with learning, to provide accommodations.

To get this process, start with a parent meeting with a guidance counselor or vice-principal who knows your child. Discuss your concerns and see what they advise. Often, they might suggest that teachers can make some minor changes in the classroom.


If those are not satisfactory or you believe that your child needs more support, then you have the right to request a formal evaluation which includes a team meeting. This request can be made at the school or at the district office. 

What typically follows is the beginning of a thorough evaluation that is similar to private ‘testing’ but may also include additional information about speech and language skills and occupational functioning. These are similar to private ‘testing,’ because they offer rich information about your child and there’s the additional benefit of direct contact with their educational environment.

RELATED: What You Can Do When Your Child's ADHD And Defiance Makes You Want To Yell

Check with your school district for local guidelines

Some school districts prefer to do their own evaluations but may need to wait longer than you want. You also have the right to present your own report. Regardless, schools can’t diagnose ADHD because it is a health disorder so you will need to share the report with your primary care provider, psychiatrist or mental health professional to get an official diagnosis.


Following the completion of this evaluation, a team meeting will be convened to determine the type(s) of special needs your child may have and whether they are eligible for mandated services. If your youngster qualifies, then the team will make recommendations and create an IEP plan or design the 504 at a later time.

Since many kids with ADHD also have reading, writing, or mathematics difficulties which qualify as learning disabilities, these actually can be diagnosed by the schools and, if they are blocking academic progress, support services will be provided.

You can see how complex this process can be. Take a deep breath, stick to what you know is true about your child and don’t get intimidated by anyone who may dismiss your concerns. You know your kiddo better than anyone else.


Collaborate on creating a plan that offers the help your student needs. Stay curious, ask questions, listen with an open mind, know your rights and advocate fiercely. If you need more support, seek it out.

RELATED: How To Help Kids With ADHD Manage Their Feelings At School & With Friends

Sharon Saline, Psy.D., is an international lecturer and workshop facilitator. She has focused her work on ADHD, anxiety, learning differences, and mental health challenges and their impact on the school and family dynamics for more than 30 years.