Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing requirements and the shift to remote learning have had a profound impact on many kids and teens with ADHD. Students living with undiagnosed ADHD are a particularly vulnerable group. These kids and teens (and their parents) are struggling, but don’t have access to the treatments and supports that can help.
Parents who suspect that their child may have ADHD can feel especially overwhelmed by the thought of seeking out an ADHD evaluation during the pandemic, when many provider offices are closed or have limited availability for in-person appointments. Fortunately, since the start of COVID-19, providers have been successfully conducting thorough ADHD evaluations remotely via telehealth. In practice, ADHD evaluations completed via telehealth sessions aren’t much different from office-based evaluations, and families usually find it easier to schedule and attend telehealth appointments.
Which types of providers are qualified to diagnose ADHD?
Clinical psychologists (Ph.D. or Psy.D.), psychiatrists (M.D.), and pediatricians (M.D.) or primary care providers (M.D. or N.P.) are all qualified to complete ADHD assessments and assign a new ADHD diagnosis. Many other mental health providers (like social workers and counselors) and learning specialists are well qualified to treat ADHD but don’t provide diagnostic evaluations.
Doesn’t the doctor need to see my child in their office to observe their ADHD symptoms?
Many parents are surprised to learn that clinicians don’t rely too heavily on a child’s behavior during an evaluation when making an ADHD diagnosis. Children and teens often behave much differently during office visits than they do at home or at school, especially when they are meeting a doctor for the first time. Instead, clinicians rely on rating scales and interviews to assess ADHD symptoms and behaviors.
What’s included in a telehealth ADHD evaluation?
Thorough ADHD evaluations conducted via telehealth include the same key components as in-person ADHD evaluations. These include an assessment of the child’s medical, family, and educational history; an evaluation of past and current symptoms of ADHD and other mental health disorders (like anxiety and depression) via interviews and rating scales that are completed by parents, teachers, and the child themselves (depending on their age); a review of school records or report cards; and in some cases a continuous performance test (CPT) to assess auditory and visual attention (completed on your home computer during the session). If the clinician has concerns about a possible learning disability, they may also include psychoeducational or neuropsychological testing, some of which may need to be completed during in-person office visits.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed anything else about how ADHD is assessed?
One added challenge that clinicians face when assessing ADHD symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic is differentiating between symptoms stemming from pandemic-related difficulties (e.g. remote learning, disrupted sleep habits, excessive screen time, less physical activity, stress, and anxiety) and symptoms that are a result of ADHD.
To address this, clinicians are spending extra time during the evaluation discussing what the child or teen’s symptoms looked like before the pandemic and how they have changed or stayed the same during the pandemic. Symptoms that emerged only during the pandemic are less likely to be a result of ADHD and are more likely to be related to pandemic-related factors.
How do I find a doctor who can diagnose ADHD through telehealth sessions?
The vast majority of clinical psychologists and psychiatrists are now using telehealth to conduct their evaluations. Pediatricians may also offer telehealth sessions for mental health appointments. To find a qualified provider, you have a few options:
If your child or teen is struggling and you suspect that they may have ADHD, you don’t need to wait for the pandemic to end before you get an evaluation. Using telehealth, providers can effectively evaluate your child or teen’s symptoms and help them get the treatment and services they need now.
Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.
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This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.