If I were to pull out my copy of the DSM-IV-TR (you do know I carry one around in my back pocket, right?) and rattled off the diagnostic criteria for many of the disorders listed there, you probably would not recognize your friends or family, or yourself. Many mental health and developmental disorders have unusual signs and symptoms which are pathognomonic, or specific to that condition.
On the other hand, some disorders are made up of symptoms which are not altogether odd or bizarre. For example, if I were to pull out the DSM and tick off the symptoms of inattention, distractibility, and disorganization which are listed as features of ADHD, you might well begin to identify these challenges in your own day to day experience at school or work.
The symptoms of ADHD are not "specific"—in fact many conditions mimic the clinical presentation of ADD/ADHD, such as:
- head injury
- sleep disorder
- sensory integration issues
- substance abuse, or early withdrawal from certain substances
- autistic spectrum developmental disorders
- anxiety, including trauma-related anxiety disorders
Whether it's a checklist I use in my clinical practice, or a list of symptoms at Wikipedia, counting to 6 does not a diagnosis make. A checklist is a great way to start a conversation, however. The challenge for clinicians who make the ADHD diagnosis, then, is to clarify who "Wiki-meets" criteria and which individuals, in fact, demonstrate the specific disorder intended by the diagnostic term Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.