ADHD research in children

All children are busy, hyperactive or easily distracted at times. And all children sometimes have a period when things don’t go so well at school. But what should you do if you think your child has ADHD? Where should you register for an ADHD study in children? And what does an ADHD study for children look like? What does the ADHD research process look like, from start to finish? What ADHD tests can be done?

Diagnostic examination ADHD

If you suspect that your son or daughter has ADHD, it is wise to initiate an ADHD examination. You can request such an examination from your GP , who will then – if he or she shares your suspicions – refer you to an institution for child and adolescent psychiatry . A thorough examination is necessary, because only then can the best treatment for your child be determined. Unfortunately, there are quite a few misunderstandings surrounding ADHD research in children.

No “ADHD test”

There are no tests that can determine with 100% certainty whether your child has ADHD or not. However, some researchers claim so and say that ADHD can be diagnosed with certainty using a blood test or brain scan. This is not true. Certain brain abnormalities have indeed been found to occur more often in children with ADHD than in children without ADHD. However, these abnormalities do not occur in every child with ADHD and the differences with children without ADHD are minimal.

An ADHD study is more than a questionnaire

There are various tests and questionnaires on the Internet that you can use to investigate whether your child has ADHD or not. However, these ADHD questionnaires only give an idea of whether it makes sense to have your child tested for ADHD, you cannot diagnose ADHD with a questionnaire alone .

Referral to child and adolescent psychiatry

It often takes a very long time before a child with ADHD is examined and receives the right help. Children with ADHD are on average about 5.2 years old before parents really start to worry. In practice, help does not usually follow immediately: children with ADHD are on average 7.6 years old when parents initiate an investigation into ADHD in their child.
Once you have taken the step to your GP and he or she has given you a referral letter to an institution for child and adolescent psychiatry, you can register with them for an ADHD study in children . It can sometimes take several months before you are actually invited, many institutions have waiting lists. However, you will often be called immediately after your registration for a telephone screening or telephone intake interview. The care provider who is interviewing you will try to estimate on the basis of that telephone call whether an ADHD examination is indeed necessary. The counselor will ask you a number of questions, such as:

  • Why did you register your child?
  • What are the complaints?
  • At what point did these complaints arise? In infancy or afterwards?
  • Are there times when the complaints worsen or diminish?
  • What are the consequences of the complaints for your child’s daily life?
  • How is your child doing at school? What kind of grades does he get?



After this telephone call, you will be told whether the care provider suspects that it is indeed ADHD, or whether your child would be better served by another investigation process. In the first case you will be invited for a real intake interview. Sometimes your child is expected to come along, in other cases only the parents are spoken to first. The intake interview is often done by a psychologist or educational psychologist . Sometimes several psychologists or educationalists are present during the conversation. You may have to complete some questionnaires before the intake interview. You will often receive a questionnaire for your child’s teacher. The intake interview is designed based on the completed questionnaires. Topics discussed during the intake interview include:

  • The reason why you registered your child
  • How you as parents deal with complaints
  • The development of your child from pregnancy to now (was your child an easy baby or a crying baby, when did the first words come, how did your pregnancy and delivery go, etc.)
  • Do certain medical and/or psychiatric complaints run in your family?
  • How does your child interact with peers?
  • What does your child do in his free time?
  • What is your child’s eating and sleeping pattern?


The intake interview, and then?

After the intake interview, the care providers may discuss what steps to take next. These will then be discussed with you directly. You may also receive a separate appointment for the results of the intake interview. This is often called the consultation . When it has been decided to do more research, this will be suggested to you. Which tests are done mainly depends on the age of your child and the information that is still missing to make the correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Which tests can be done during an ADHD test for children?

Various investigations are possible. In many cases, an intelligence test, a neuropsychological test and an observation are planned. The ADHD examination is usually carried out by a psychologist or educational psychologist.

Observation of the child

Observing a child with a suspicion of ADHD is one of the most important tools of a care provider. Sometimes a separate appointment is made for an observation, in other cases the child is extensively observed during the other examinations. By observing a child you can obtain a lot of information, such as the way the child deals with new, exciting situations, how the contact with the researcher is, whether the child can concentrate for a longer period of time, or whether the child is very restless with motor skills. etcetera. Such observations will help a clinician to interpret the research results obtained from other studies.

Intelligence research

An intelligence test determines the global intelligence level of a child. A number of complaints are consistent with both ADHD and a low or high IQ. For example, children with a low intelligence level can be overextended at school and by the environment, which can cause them to exhibit restless, rebellious behavior. On the other hand, a gifted child may not be sufficiently challenged at school, causing him to appear very dreamy and absent.

Neuropsychological examination

A neuropsychological examination can delve deeper into specific factors that determine how a child is doing in daily life. For example, attention and concentration, memory, motor skills, how the child approaches tasks and planning ability will be examined.

Other studies

In some cases additional investigations are being conducted. For example, a family survey can be used to look at the functioning of the family itself. This looks at the roles that everyone has in the family, how family members talk to each other and how people deal with problems. Another type of research that can be used is personality research . This research is often done on older children and examines, among other things, the way the child views things, how he or she solves problems and whether there are any fears.

The ADHD research, and after that?

When all research has been done, the results of the various studies will be combined into a research report . This describes the findings of the care providers and provides advice on how to proceed. This research will be discussed with you during the consultation, so that you have plenty of opportunity to ask questions. If ADHD appears to be present, a proposal for treatment is often made. You do not have to respond to this immediately, you can think about it at home and make a decision.

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