Easy Screening for ADHD

ASQ-3 and PEDS pick up early signs of developmental delays

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Attention deficit disorders aren't usually caught until after a child enters school, yet parents often know there's a problem long before that. A couple of tests will help with early diagnosis.

Researchers have found that two screening instruments - the Age and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) and  the Parents' Evaluation of Developmental Status (PEDS) are effective in picking up learning delays in children, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Yet many family physicians are hesitant to use these tests, despite their accuracy and usefulness.

"Tell your doctor you want to fill out the Ages and Stages Questionnaire for your child."

The ASQ has recently been updated and is now called the ASQ-3. Both tests take only minutes for parents to fill out. Then the physician can score the tests in another few minutes to provide valuable feedback during a single office visit.

Researchers at University of British Columbia (BC) and BC Children's Hospital say that only about 30 percent of developmental delays are identified in children before they enter school. These might be social, physical or learning delays. And experts agree the sooner they're caught, the easier such delays are to treat.

Regular screening could do that, says Dr. Marjolaine Limbos, principal investigator and a psychologist at BC Children's Hospital, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority.

But family doctors don't regularly use the ASQ and PEDS tests. Researchers believe the screening tools are not being utilized because their accuracy hasn't been tested in a family practice setting and because physicians are afraid it will take to much time to properly administer and score the tests.

According to co-author Dr. David Joyce, a clinical assistant professor in UBC's Department of Family Practice and a Vancouver family physician, most doctors are using what he calls "the eyeball test," which isn't very accurate. Children with problems are being missed. Dr. Joyce says this isn't healthy because the longer these problems are left untreated, the more the brain adapts, and thus positive change becomes harder.

To test the accuracy of these tests, the research team recruited more than 335 children aged one to five years. The parents answered both the PEDS and ASQ tests. The children were then given a complete series of psychological tests to provide a standard by which to compare results.

Both tests were found to be reasonably effective in detecting abnormalities, with the ASQ being slightly more accurate than the PEDS.

The ASQ takes parents about 15 minutes to complete and the PEDS is answered in about five minutes. The PEDS asks parents to recall the child's activities and provide yes/no answers. The ASQ asks about the child's ability to do certain things such as throw a ball.

It takes only a few minutes to score the tests to provide families with much needed information on their child's developmental progress.

Dr. Limbos says she hopes this study will encourage family physicians to be using these screening tools. If development problems are detected, the children can be referred to a specialist for more testing and treatment as necessary.

Results from this study are published in the online version of the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 5, 2011
Last Updated:
October 3, 2012