The utility of self-report measures and the continuous performance test in the diagnosis of ADHD in adults

CNS Spectr. 2004 Sep;9(9):649-59. doi: 10.1017/s1092852900001929.


Background: Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) occurs in as many as 4 percent of adults yet it is often not recognized in clinical settings because the presenting symptoms may resemble those seen in other disorders or because symptoms may be masked by commonly comorbid conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine the diagnostic utility of instruments commonly used in the assessment of adults presenting with symptoms of ADHD.

Methods: We reviewed several widely used self-report and laboratory measures and empirically examined the utility of the Brown Attention-Deficit Disorder Scale for Adults (Brown ADD Scale) and the Conners Continuous Performance Test (CPT) in differentially identifying adults with ADHD and those with other Axis I disorders.

Results: Ninety-three adults who self-referred to the ADHD program for adults at a university medical center participated in the study. Of these, 44 had ADHD combined subtype (ADHD-CB), and 26 had ADHD, predominantly inattentive subtype (ADHD-IA). Thirty-three non-ADHD adults diagnosed with Axis I mood or anxiety disorders comprised an "Other Psychiatric" group. Rates of comorbid disorders, including substance abuse, in the ADHD groups were typical of those reported in the adult ADHD literature. Data on the Brown ADD Scale and on the CPT were available for subsets of 61 and 46 participants, respectively. Analyses showed that the ADHD-CB, ADHD-IA, and Other Psychiatric groups all received mean scores in the clinical range on the Brown ADD Scale, with a trend toward even higher elevations in the two ADHD groups. Among 12 CPT variables assessed for the three groups, the mean scores on only two variables for the ADHD-IA group were clinically elevated. Neither the Brown ADD Scale nor CPT scores evinced sufficient sensitivity and specificity to qualify them to assist in differential diagnosis of ADHD vis-a-vis other, predominantly internalizing, psychiatric disorders.

Conclusion: The results indicate a need for closer examination of executive and adaptive functioning in adults with ADHD compared with those with internalizing disorders in order to identify features that could assist in differential diagnosis.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / diagnosis*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Self-Assessment*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*