I’ve been getting variations of this, “do you need an ADHD diagnosis?” question so it’s time to stop avoiding and actually write down my thoughts.
ADHD is just one part of what makes you, you. It is not an identity. So I usually avoid answering this question because my opinion isn’t relevant to your life.
Most things worth doing aren’t easy, and getting an ADHD assessment is no exception.
Do you need an ADHD diagnosis?
Let’s acknowledge up front that you must jump through multiple hoops to get an ADHD assessment.
Finding a clinician takes patience and persistence. All of the qualified clinicians I know have a waiting list and it can be difficult to find someone decent within driving distance. Assuming you have transportation you could wait for your chosen person for up to ten months.
The cost of evaluation varies and is not always covered by insurance. Some clinicians no longer want to deal with insurance so you have to pay out-of-pocket anyway. The cost for comprehensive evaluation is a barrier for many people.
Expensive neuropsych evaluations have become trendy as well.
A neuropsych eval isn’t necessary most of the time. I suspect it is recommended as a way to “pass the buck” by physicians who don’t know what to do with their patients but don’t really believe ADHD is a thing.
The whole process is very un-ADHD friendly and a general PITA.
ADHD does not travel alone and it is exceedingly difficult to tease out what is going on with each person.
With all the noise and #ADHD content on the internet, it seems counterintuitive that there is still a huge hill to climb for anyone who wants answers. But this is where we are.
seriously…Do you need an ADHD diagnosis?
As with most things in life my answer is…..it depends.
I prefer to validate all types of diagnosis, including self-diagnosis.
I write this not only because of the barriers listed above, but also many of the measuring sticks we have for ADHD are hopelessly flawed. Lists of symptoms and filling out forms is no longer enough.
Neither is printing out self-assessments for your primary care doctor and expecting them to agree with you.
There simply is not enough ADHD awareness and education within the medical community.
Even clinicians who do believe in ADHD can get confused about how to assess for it. Worst case scenario they rely on outdated tools and methodology that don’t take into account the whole person sitting in front of them.
An quality evaluator will consider all the contexts of a person’s life.
They probably won’t bother much with the DSM except for insurance purposes. If someone tells you that your symptoms aren’t enough to reflect a DSM diagnosis I suggest you turn on your heel and walk out.
I’d also walk out if you’re told that because you completed a degree program, or you have experienced some level of financial success, that you couldn’t possibly have ADHD. This is a sign that the person doesn’t understand how ADHD shows up in women over the lifespan.
If you are fortunate and you find someone great, do your best to be patient. A thorough evaluation takes time. You most likely will not get answers during your first appointment.
Benefits to getting a formal diagnosis
For me getting rediagnosed in my thirties gave me reassurance.
I felt much more confident talking about my challenges with confirmation that I wasn’t having a mid-life crisis that existed only in my imagination.
The diagnosis also gives you access to medications if that is something you’d like to try. I didn’t immediately go back to medication, but eventually I decided to try, and it was a total game changer for me.
If you’re debating about having your child diagnosed know that going through the process will give you get access to accommodations at school, and you have a lot more power in how those accommodations are formed. Not only that, but it might help you to separate the behaviors from the child, which can be important.
The biggest downside to diagnosis is the circus of getting there.
when not to get diagnosed
Feel free to skip the diagnosis If you don’t wish to jump on the endless hamster wheel of evaluators and questions and appointments.
Also, if you’re a person who chafes at, “labels” a diagnosis might not be the best option.
The truth is you’ll have the same conversations with the people in your life either way. There is an argument to be made that when you say, “ADHD” some people jump to conclusions in their mind. The same way they do if you say, “autism.”
Getting the ADHD diagnosis will not change your life overnight.
Often the diagnosis brings up more questions than it answers. And it’s up to you to figure out what to do next.
What really matters is your understanding of ADHD as it applies to you and your life.
You don’t need approval from anyone to learn about ADHD, and you certainly don’t need a diagnostic label if you see no benefit.
learning about ADHD (and yourself)
If you are a visual person I’d start with YouTube. It will be evident immediately which content is higher quality because there will be sources, and any talking heads will have their names clearly displayed so you can google them.
Social media – Tiktok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter are fine. But I wouldn’t use it as your primary source of information. Look at that as entertainment and enjoy it for what it is.
Podcasts are a great way to learn new and interesting information, but at this point there are so many that it’s hard to filter through them. If you want to know which ones I listen to hit reply and I’ll fill you in.
As a side note, I learn a lot from podcasts that don’t have the word “ADHD” in them at all.
As you know I’m a writer, so I always like to recommend books as a self-paced way to learn. You don’t have to read front to back, you can jump around as needed. And most of the people who write the books try very hard to make them a bit more ADHD-friendly.
You always have the option to talk to an ADHD-informed therapist or coach. Just make sure you ask the coach for their training because there are a lot of people calling themselves coaches who actually are not.
Same goes for therapists, ask them questions. Don’t be afraid to move-on if they don’t seem to “get” what you are telling them.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach that will work for everyone.
Support needs to be personalized.
How does ADHD show up for you?
What specific “symptoms” are troubling you?
What other stuff is along for the ride? (anxiety etc)
What supports do you have in place now?
Does ADHD show up in your relationships? How?
Why do you want the diagnosis? What are the benefits to that?
What changes are you looking to make?
What are your strengths? (outside of the ADHD)
One of the best thing I did for myself, aside from starting my website, was to gather my people. It didn’t happen overnight, in fact it took five years and continues to this day.
I always knew I needed the company of other women to have important conversations. ADHD is not something you can do alone.
There are online communities like the Enclave.
ADDA has a range peer support groups that you can access with a membership.
You don’t have to pay $1000 for two months of community support.
You just have to find the group that meets your tastes and preferences.
The high-ticket pricing you see on the internet is not reflective of higher quality, better results, or distinguished customer service. It’s more about the person selling the thing and their business goals.
There are in-person gatherings like those offered by CHADD.
Once per year there is an ADHD Conference where you can gather with other adults with ADHD, as well as parents, educators, coaches, therapists and “experts” of every stripe. I speak at the conference every year, before that I attended.
The ADHD Conference is a great way to feel like you’re part of a community. And if you cannot afford a plane ticket you can attend virtually and still get access to the recordings.
So….do you need an ADHD diagnosis?
depends on many factors
getting the diagnosis is a long process
there are benefits (meds, accommodations)
self-diagnosis is valid
determine your goals when deciding to pursue the diagnosis
supports need to be personalized
learn as much as you can on your own
And remember, an ADHD diagnosis is just one part of you. It’s not the whole picture.