Accessing accommodations: how to get an ADHD diagnosis in the USA

A diagnosis of ADHD can provide an explanation and context for years of struggles navigating in a world not designed for neurodivergents. Here we explore the various routes to accessing an ADHD diagnosis in the USA.

Clock 4 min read Calendar Published: 13 May 2024
Author Lawrie Jones
Accessing accommodations: how to get an ADHD diagnosis in the USA


Ever wondered if your challenges with focus, organization and impulsivity could be caused by Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? These are classic symptoms of ADHD, but you won’t get confirmation without a clinical diagnosis – and that can be tough for college students.

Some of the symptoms of ADHD include failure to pay attention to details or making careless mistakes, trouble focusing on tasks, and challenges in organizing activities. To get a diagnosis, you’ll need to present symptoms for over six months that affect your functioning and development.

All the evidence shows that college students with undiagnosed ADHD experience a negative impact on academic success. As well as lower grades, students with ADHD are also likely to undertake more significant psychological and emotional difficulties than other students.

Thankfully, things are changing, with specific ADHD tests for adults providing a fast and accurate diagnosis. This article explores how to get an ADHD diagnosis and access the support you need to succeed. 

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurological disorder which is characterized by patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. While we may all experience these symptoms from time to time (especially when dealing with exam pressure or study-related stress), they’re more severe or frequent in those with ADHD.

ADHD is a growing phenomena; an estimated 15% of college students are living with ADD or ADHD, with most of those diagnosed in childhood. Increasing awareness of the signs and symptoms of ADHD is positive, but testing for adults has previously been a problem.

Up to 75% of adults with ADHD were not previously diagnosed in childhood, meaning they had to struggle through school and college without the support they were entitled to.

It’s never too late to get an ADHD diagnosis. Students with the condition are legally entitled to a range of mental health support and educational adaptations that enable them to achieve their full potential. Confirmation of ADHD can also explain previous behavior and mental health challenges.

How is ADHD diagnosed in adults?

ADHD is a clinical condition, which means diagnosis must be performed by a medical professional. They’ll use a range of standard tests to diagnose ADHD, including symptom checklists, standardized behavior rating scales (tests that compare your behavior to those of a person without ADHD), and cognitive assessments.

As part of a comprehensive ADHD assessment, medical professionals may interview your family members or teachers. In some cases, behavior and performance can be tracked over time by individuals, professors and other trusted professionals to provide insights that could inform a diagnosis.

ADHD – like autism – is a spectrum condition with differing levels of severity and impact. The tests, assessments and interviews will help a clinician determine if you have ADHD (or if your symptoms are caused by something else like anxiety and depression) and its severity. 

How can I get an ADHD diagnosis?

While schools have established processes for identifying ADHD and assessing it, the pathway to a diagnosis can be challenging for college students and adults. There are two routes to get an adult ADHD diagnosis: working with student health or paying for a private diagnosis.

  • Go through student health services (or healthcare insurance): If you’re worried about ADHD symptoms, you can speak to your student health team in the first instance. Adults with health insurance can speak to their provider and request a diagnosis. While these are the cheapest ways to access support, the growing demand for ADHD diagnoses means there can be significant delay in seeing a specialist.
  • Private ADHD diagnosis: You can also gain a private evaluation from ADHD specialists. A confirmed diagnosis will be faster, but it’s likely to be much more expensive than those ordered by your college or paid for by your insurance. Prices for ADHD tests for adults can range from $375 - $2,000, depending on the level of investigation.

In both cases, the medical team will work through the tests outlined above and provide you with a definitive diagnosis for your symptoms. This is the first step in ensuring you can access the support you need.

I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD. What support is available to me?

Students with an ADHD diagnosis are legally entitled to additional support to help them cope with the stresses and strains of self-directed learning.

If you’ve got an adult ADHD diagnosis, here’s some of the support you can access...

Educational support & accommodations

ADHD is classed as a disability, which means those with the condition are eligible for support and accommodations. It’s enshrined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Accommodations will depend on your specific needs, but they could include extra time during tests, testing in a quiet environment, permission to record lectures, and written instructions from professors.

Students with ADHD can also benefit from adaptive software like Glean, which supports note-taking and the broader learning experience.

Every college will have its own process for accessing and designing accommodations, so students should speak to disability support services. They’ll work with you to draw up an individual support plan.

ADHD therapy and medication

Coaching for ADHD is based on cognitive behavioral therapy and aims to help students with target planning, time management, goal setting, organization, and problem-solving. Coaching can help students to develop the life skills they need to manage their learning independently.

In some cases, you may be offered medication to help treat your ADHD. Medications work by targeting brain chemicals (specifically, dopamine and norepinephrine) that affect your ability to concentrate and focus attention.

ADHD support groups

A diagnosis of ADHD can be confusing, but there are lots of online and real-world support groups out there to help – there may even be one on your campus.

Charities like Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), for example, offer free information on strategies, legal rights, and local support networks. You can find a comprehensive list of support groups for ADHD here.

There are also lots of online support groups where you can connect with other adults with ADHD, including those specifically for African American/Black diaspora, LGBTQ+, and South Asians, all provided by the ADDA.

Online and real-world support groups can connect you with others who are living with ADHD. They can share their experiences and insights, as well as offer support as you come to terms with your diagnosis.

Achieving academic success with ADHD

A diagnosis of ADHD as an adult can provide an explanation and context for years of behaviors and the struggles of navigating in a world not designed for the neurodivergent individuals.

The key to achieving academic success with ADHD is to recognise it as a challenge, develop strategies, and embrace tools and technologies to succeed.

Learn more about how ADHD affects learning here
Time for a simpler, smarter note taking accommodation?

Time for a simpler, smarter note taking accommodation?

Glean is the online note taking tool that makes compliance simple, reduces cost and admin burden, and improves student outcomes.
Learn More