Adult ADHD and Diagnosis

March 2, 2014 Elizabeth Prager

I talked about one of my professors a few weeks back in a post about ADHD and beneficial impulsivity and I'm here to talk about his wisdom again. We have this thing in physical therapy called a "physical therapy diagnosis" and my professor has some issues with the term - I'll explain. When you go your primary care physician, say, because you have a sore throat, they will give you a "medical diagnosis," like strep throat. When you go to a physical therapist with neck pain and we find that you have some postural issues, we'll "diagnose" you with: Impaired Posture. Or, if your physician says you have arthritis, we'll say you have "Impaired Joint Mobility." Seems like semantics at times, but what the heck is the point of a diagnosis anyway? What is the purpose of an adult ADHD diagnosis and how is an adult ADHD diagnosis made? How can a diagnosis help and guide treatment?
For physicians, like your primary care doctor, the diagnosis is usually based on the story you tell and some test result (blood work, urine sample, etc.) and this lets the physician know how to treat your condition. Do you have strep throat? Here, have an antibiotic. For us [future] doctors of physical therapy, you come in with an issue, we do some history taking, we run some of our own tests (strength, sensation, range of motion, etc), we figure out your "physical therapy diagnosis" and treat you from there. Oh, your posture is impaired? Here, let's do these exercises to stabilize your neck and improve your head control and a whole host of other things.

The Diagnosis of Adult ADHD

Now, we get to adult ADHD. Thanks for your patience, folks. For psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and many more, the system is pretty similar. They might not draw your blood, but they take a history of your present and past conditions, just like any good doctor would. They use their clinical experience and research to determine why your brain acts how it does and how it affects your behaviors. Voila! Based on the information provided, you have adult ADHD.

Now, what?

The diagnosis is a framework, my good professor says. It does not define a patient, it guides treatment. If you have a sprained ankle, you do not suddenly become a sprained-ankle-person. You're a person with a sprained ankle. When you're told you have adult ADHD, you do not become an adult-ADHD-person. You're a person with adult ADHD. Always a person first.

Adult ADHD is a constellation of symptoms created to help guide the treatment of individuals with many of these symptoms. It's a framework, not a judgement of your character or your self-worth. Whether the diagnosis be medical, physical therapy or psychiatric, it is simply a tool to best help you achieve your goals.

APA Reference
Prager, E. (2014, March 2). Adult ADHD and Diagnosis, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 22 from

Author: Elizabeth Prager

Leave a reply