ADHD diagnosis for adults UK: 4 steps to getting ADHD tested

      ADHD diagnosis for adults UK: 4 steps to getting ADHD tested

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      By Eleanor Hope-Jones

      Dec 23, 2022

      If you’re reading this article you’re probably wondering whether you have ADHD and if you should get your ADHD diagnosed. This thought is usually closely followed with:

      “Well, how would I go about getting an ADHD test?”

      Look no further. 

      We’ve broken down exactly how ADHD testing for adults works in the UK, what symptoms you might be experiencing and created a step-by-step guide on the different routes to an ADHD diagnosis.

      There’s no one specific test for diagnosing ADHD in adults. 

      But there is an assessment that a qualified ADHD specialist, whether that’s a psychiatrist or other healthcare professional, performs looking for a set of ADHD symptoms. 

      To get an accurate diagnosis a standard ADHD assessment usually includes:

      • A series of interviews with an appropriate healthcare professional

      • A series of interviews or reports from relevant people in your life such as parents, teachers, friends or partners

      • A physical examination to rule out any other reasons for your symptoms

      • A standardised behaviour rating scale questionnaire

      • Diagnostic system checklists

      An ADHD diagnosis can only be given if the relevant symptoms have been present since childhood as it’s not currently believed that ADHD can develop in later life. So an ADHD specialist may ask to see evidence from your school days, such as your records, to confirm a diagnosis.

      ADHD symptoms in adults

      Speaking of ADHD symptoms, though there is a defined set of criteria for the condition in children there is not as strict a set of criteria for adults.

      There’s some disagreement in medical circles around how to diagnose adults as they may have learnt to mask certain symptoms. As a rule of thumb, an adult has to display 5 plus symptoms from the children’s criteria for either inattentiveness or hyperactive and impulsive types of ADHD.

      An adult has to display 5 plus symptoms from the children’s criteria for either inattentiveness or hyperactive and impulsive types of ADHD to be diagnosed

      Inattentive ADHD will look like struggling to concentrate and focus

      The main signs of inattentive ADHD, as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth edition (DSM-5) are:

      • Making careless mistakes/lacking attention to detail

      • ifficulty sustaining attention

      • Not seeming to listen when spoken to directly

      • Failing to follow through on tasks and instructions

      • Exhibiting poor organization

      • Avoiding/disliking tasks requiring sustained mental effort

      • Losing things necessary for tasks/activities

      • Getting Easily distracted (including unrelated thoughts)

      • Being forgetful in daily activities

      Hyperactivity and impulsive ADHD will look like excessive movement and talking

      The main signs of hyperactivity and impulsiveness ADHD from the DSM-5 are:

      • Fidgets with or taps hands or feet, squirms in seat

      • Leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected

      • Experiences feelings of restlessness

      • Has difficulty engaging in quiet, leisurely activities

      • Is “on-the-go” or acts as if “driven by a motor”

      • Talks excessively

      • Blurts out answers

      • Has difficulty waiting their turn

      • Interrupts or intrudes on others

      If you’re an adult looking to get diagnosed with ADHD then your symptoms must have a moderate effect on multiple areas of your life. 

      That might look like:

      • Driving dangerously

      • Struggling to make or keep a social group

      • Struggling to make or keep a romantic partner

      • Consistent underachieving at work or in education

      So your symptoms have to be pretty significant to get a diagnosis. The process of getting referred for your assessment can also be pretty tricky. 

      To get an ADHD diagnosis you can either self-refer or get referred by your general practitioner (GP). 

      If you self-refer you’ll have to find your ADHD specialist to do the assessment and pay for the assessment yourself, also known as going private.

      If you get referred by your GP the NHS will pay for the assessment. 

      Let’s take a closer look at the steps to a diagnosis:

      A GP cannot formally diagnose anyone with ADHD, as they may not have a specialist ADHD qualification. But they are trained to understand the symptoms enough to refer you.

      When you see your GP they may ask you questions about

      • your symptoms 

      • when your symptoms started

      • where your symptoms occur – for example, at home, in school, college or university, or at work

      • whether the symptoms affect your day-to-day life 

      • f there's a family history of ADHD

      • about any other problems or symptoms of different health conditions you or your child may have

      So be prepared to answer those questions honestly and clearly. Consider which symptoms you can share and examples of when they first started. Be ready to talk about the different areas of your life your symptoms impact. 

      Remember your GP may not be as familiar with ADHD as you are if you’ve recently been researching it. Doing your research where you can link symptoms to diagnostic criteria might help you tell the story of why you believe you have ADHD. 

      his is especially important if you’re a woman with ADHD as your symptoms may present less obviously and you’re more likely to mask them effectively.

      Your right to choose and Psychiatry UK

      At this point, you can exercise your right to choose the provider of your mental health services.

      One of the largest providers of ADHD assessments in the UK is Psychiatry UK whose waiting lists for assessments are often shorter than the NHS’. The NHS will still pay for this assessment as they buy a certain amount of assessment from Psychiatry UK and other providers.

      Psychiatry UK explains how to exercise your right to choose effectively on their website if you want to choose them as a provider.

      They recommend:

      1. Downloading and completing their ASRS form

      2. Downloading and personalising a template letter to your GP

      3. Taking both documents to your GP and asking for your ADHD referral

      If your GP then agrees to refer you and believes an ADHD assessment is appropriate you can ask to be referred to Psychiatry UK under your right to choose.

      If your GP does decide to refer you for an assessment they’ll be a bit of a gap here whilst they send off all the necessary documents. Most GPs will usually send you a copy of the referral as well so you can keep track.

      Seeking ADHD treatment privately

      If you are in a position to afford private health care you can skip seeing your GP and convince them to refer you, and instead self-refer yourself directly to a private ADHD assessment provider. 

      A good way to decide is by searching for an ADHD specialist in your area or asking friends and contacts for word of mouth recommendations.

      Some national specialists that offer adult ADHD assessments include:

      Make sure you do your research and read reviews of other people’s experiences to make sure you find the right ADHD assessment service for you. You can also check that the person running your assessment is an appropriately qualified healthcare professional and a member of the General Medical Council and on their specialist registrar.

      You will probably then get a message from your referred clinic explaining there’s a long wait as ADHD assessments are very in demand. This period varies from one assessment provider to the next and also depends on whether you’re paying for a private service or not. 

      You may also receive a fair amount of forms and questionnaires in the post to fill out at this time.

      Once you’ve waited your assessment will eventually take place as described at the top of this article. A typical assessment will last between one to three hours. 

      This might seem like a long time but you must get an accurate diagnosis that looks holistically at your mental health. Comorbidities, such as autism spectrum disorder and other mental health conditions are common with ADHD. 

      The specialist may share their diagnosis with you during the assessment and start discussing treatment options, from medication to ADHD coaching. Bear in mind that even if you are diagnosed with ADHD within the session there can still also be waiting lists for treatment.

      The titration period, the time when your body adjusts to ADHD medication, typically takes 8-12 weeks with a waiting period beforehand.

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      It’s up to you whether the above process sounds worth it depending on how severe your symptoms are and how well you feel able to deal with them. 

      An ADHD diagnosis is only the first step in a long journey of learning how to manage adult ADHD alongside your general mental health. Getting a diagnosis can be life-changing for some people, so it’s important to get the process in motion as soon as you’ve decided.l

      Good luck!

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