Assessing ADHD symptoms in children and adults: Evaluating the role of objective measures

Theresa S. Emser*, Blair A. Johnston, J. Douglas Steele, Sandra Kooij, Lisa Thorell, Hanna Christiansen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Diagnostic guidelines recommend using a variety of methods to assess and diagnose ADHD. Applying subjective measures always incorporates risks such as informant biases or large differences between ratings obtained from diverse sources. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that ratings and tests seem to assess somewhat different constructs. The use of objective measures might thus yield valuable information for diagnosing ADHD. This study aims at evaluating the role of objective measures when trying to distinguish between individuals with ADHD and controls. Our sample consisted of children (n = 60) and adults (n = 76) diagnosed with ADHD and matched controls who completed self- and observer ratings as well as objective tasks. Diagnosis was primarily based on clinical interviews. A popular pattern recognition approach, support vector machines, was used to predict the diagnosis. Results: We observed relatively high accuracy of 79% (adults) and 78% (children) applying solely objective measures. Predicting an ADHD diagnosis using both subjective and objective measures exceeded the accuracy of objective measures for both adults (89.5%) and children (86.7%), with the subjective variables proving to be the most relevant. Conclusions: We argue that objective measures are more robust against rater bias and errors inherent in subjective measures and may be more replicable. Considering the high accuracy of objective measures only, we found in our study, we think that they should be incorporated in diagnostic procedures for assessing ADHD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11
JournalBehavioral and Brain Functions
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 May 2018

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