Diagnosis of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents: A Helpful Guide

Thao Tran, BSN, RN, CPN


Pediatr Nurs. 2021;47(4):202-207. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neuropsychiatric disorders and the second most common chronic childhood illness, affecting millions of American adolescents and children. Many associations are drawn between ADHD and comorbid conditions, potentially causing unfavorable consequences that profoundly affect an individual's academic performance, social interactions, overall well-being, and quality of life, which is why it is so essential for providers to evaluate these children for coexisting disorders. The diagnostic evaluation for ADHD not only relies on the child's comprehensive assessment, but also includes the validated reports of parent(s) and teacher(s) to thoroughly assess the child's behavior in different environments (Feldman & Reiff, 2014). With the increasing prevalence of ADHD diagnoses in primary care practice, providers must have the needed knowledge and skill to accurately diagnose the pediatric population with ADHD and competently manage this disorder to optimize their outcomes (Wolraich et al., 2019).


Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a collection of symptoms marked by a persistent pattern of hyperactivity-impulsivity and/or inattention, which hinders a person's executive functioning skills, including attention, concentration, memory, organization, motivation, and emotional control. ADHD is a highly genetic and chronic condition caused by dysfunction of the chemical, structural, and connectivity in the brain (Frank, 2020). The risk of developing ADHD increases two and eight times in individuals with parents or siblings diagnosed with ADHD (Smith et al., 2009). Quite a few myths exist with regard to ADHD's etiology; however, research does not lend credence to any idea that ADHD has causal factors associated with failed parenting, traumatic events, TV viewing, a diet high in sugar, or factors in one's social sphere or environment. Though the ADHD pathogenesis is unknown, research has shown that brain dysfunction in ADHD is associated with an abnormal level of dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters in the frontal-subcortical circuits that hinder the communication between neurons and cause disruption in the activation of various brain functions (Frank, 2020).