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Step 3: Physical Exam and Medical History

Margaret V. Austin, Ph.D., edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

Understanding someone's overall health is an important aspect of the diagnostic assessment. This is especially true if symptoms have begun recently. The onset sudden onset of recent symptoms may indicate a cause other than ADHD. A psychiatric and/or medical exam is necessary to rule out other conditions that could cause similar symptoms. For example, other conditions that can cause inattention and impulsivity include learning disabilities; hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone); fetal alcohol syndrome (high levels of exposure to alcohol while in the womb); depression; anxiety; vision or hearing problems; and, chronic abuse or neglect. A medical history helps to identify the true source of the problems.

As part of the exam, the healthcare practitioner will ask about the child's medical history. This may include a discussion about allergies, asthma, tics, epilepsy, and any other medical conditions. The practitioner may ask about any family history of psychiatric illness, depression, or alcoholism.

Parents and other caregivers should be prepared to discuss their child's developmental history. This will include a discussion of major developmental milestones (e.g., crawling, walking, talking, etc.). Caregivers will also be asked to provide a brief history of the child's education (e.g., grades, friends, and need for special classes). This information helps the child's healthcare provider understand the child's unique situation and improves diagnostic accuracy.