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ADD vs. ADHD: What's The Difference?

Of course, you love your child. You just wish they would slow down for just one minute. Maybe they seem to be dashing off in a dozen directions at once, or they are always caught up in their own little world. You’re at your wit's end, and you know you need some help. But is this what they mean when they talk about ADD? Or is it ADHD? And what’s the difference between ADD and ADHD? Is there a difference? 

Most importantly — how can you help your child?

The questions surrounding ADD vs. ADHD can be confusing. It may feel like you need to be an expert to help your kid, but you don’t even know where to start. Yet, it’s so hard to get help if you don’t have the vocabulary to describe your problem, right? So, let’s take it from the beginning and figure out the difference between ADHD and ADD. 

Understanding ADHD vs. ADD

In 1980, the diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD, was described as a neurodevelopmental disorder that was accompanied by a set of core symptoms, including inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. While all kids display these characteristics sometimes, these symptoms are persistent and problematic for kids with ADD. Their ability to learn in the classroom or to refrain from causing disruption to the family is impaired by these symptoms. Some kids diagnosed with ADD experienced hyperactivity and impulsivity1 symptoms, and some did not.

As studies continued, and we began to learn more about the brain and various neurodevelopmental disorders, the scientific community came to a consensus that Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, was a better designation for the same disorder. In 1994, the name change was codified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, or DSM-52.

But not all kids diagnosed with ADD were also hyperactive, so what about them? Just as ADD included kids who experienced different symptoms, ADHD also recognizes that not all kids diagnosed with the disorder will display all the core symptoms. And, despite the term “hyperactive” being in the name, not all kids with ADHD experience hyperactive symptoms. 

Today, all attention deficit disorders are considered a type of ADHD. There are three primary “types of ADHD” based on their symptoms. These types are:
ADHD Hyperactive-Impulsive Type
ADHD Inattentive Type (formerly called ADD)
Combined Type ADHD

We no longer use the term ADD to refer to this disorder. So the difference between ADD and ADHD is twofold. First, ADD is no longer in use. And secondly, ADD is now best understood as a subset or a subtype of ADHD.

ADD vs. ADHD Symptoms

Although some people use the terms ADD and ADHD interchangeably, they are not the same thing. ADD was once the name of the primary disorder that is now called ADHD. But many educators and parents still use the term ADD. While no longer a medical diagnosis, ADD is still often used to describe those with ADHD Inattentive Type3. It is even referred to as ADD/ADHD Inattentive4 type or ADHD ADD-type.

Now, with an understanding of that distinction, let’s take a look at the symptoms of ADD vs. ADHD.

The primary symptoms of ADD include:

  • Poor working memory
  • Inattention
  • Poor executive function
  • Distractibility5
These symptoms translate to common behaviors like:
  • Careless mistakes
  • Short attention span
  • Trouble listening or paying attention
  • Disorganization
  • Procrastination
  • Perfectionism
  • Failure to follow through
  • Daydreaming6
Sometimes, individuals with this subtype of ADHD may be mistaken or perceived as lazy. 

The core symptoms of ADHD include the inattentive behaviors for ADD as well as:
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity7
These ADHD symptoms translate to the following in addition to the ADD behaviors:
  • Erratic moods
  • Fidgety
  • Disruptive
  • Talkative
  • Interrupting
  • Risky behavior8

While there is plenty of overlap in the symptomology, the hyperactive signs are common in ADHD. The reason many people still find value in using the term ADD vs. ADHD is that they want to describe the inattentive symptoms of the disorder without hyperactivity.

ADD vs. ADHD Diagnosis

Diagnosing ADD or ADHD is not as straightforward as getting a blood test or an X-ray. Instead, the mental health professional or primary care provider must look at the totality of the individual’s circumstances, symptoms, and behaviors.

To diagnose ADD or ADHD, these are the symptoms and behaviors that are evaluated:

Inattentive Hyperactive or Impulsive
  • Disorganizing tasks or ideas
  • Easily distracted
  • Routinely forgetting daily activities
  • Not following clear instructions
  • Routinely misplacing key tools to complete a task
  • Avoiding and postponing mental tasks
  • Routinely making careless mistakes
  • Unable to focus on classwork or chores
  • Difficulty focusing attention on tasks or social interactions9
  • Routinely fidgeting, wriggling, tapping, unable to sit still
  • Always active, on the go, unable to be calmly composed
  • Frequently disrupting class or meetings by getting up and wandering around
  • Excessive talking
  • Blurting out responses before a question is finished or a speaker is done speaking
  • Difficulty waiting for their turn10
  • Unable to play quietly11

Of course, anyone may exhibit some of these behaviors occasionally. Therefore, the symptoms must be persistent and burdensome to be considered symptoms of a disorder. When evaluating these symptoms to make an ADD vs. ADHD diagnosis, the specialist will also assess the following:

  • Is the child (or adult) exhibiting six or more symptoms of inattentiveness (for ADHD ADD-type) or six or more behaviors of inattentiveness, hyperactivity, or impulsiveness?
  • Have these behaviors and symptoms continued for more than six months?
  • Are these symptoms occurring in at least two different settings, i.e., at home and at school?
  • Do these symptoms create a burden on the individual socially, academically, or at work?
  • Are there any other conditions or circumstances that can explain the symptoms?12

The Impact of ADD and ADHD on Self-Confidence 

While many signs and symptoms of ADD and ADHD can overlap, what is often consistent is the impact the challenges can have on a person's self-esteem. When an individual, at any age, consistently struggles to keep up, manage their mood and emotions, and perform at the level they want, it can result in negative feelings. It is not uncommon for someone with ADHD to describe being faced with feelings of doubt, frustration, and even shame. They can question their intelligence, and abilities, resulting in a negative sense of self. “Why can everyone else do this, and I can’t?”  “What is wrong with me?”

It is important to stress that ADHD is not a reflection of a person’s intelligence or abilities. It is a frame of reference to understand areas that may be more challenging, which can help point parents, and individuals in the right direction to better understand, support, and ultimately improve areas of challenge. 

Managing ADD and ADHD

Understanding ADD vs. ADHD is a great start to being able to ask for support from your healthcare providers and school officials. But now, let’s get to your real question: How do you manage ADD or ADHD?

While medication is often used to treat ADD and ADHD for people over six years of age, medication alone is insufficient to ease the disorder's burden. Holistic ADHD treatment options are a critical component of managing the disorder effectively.

The Brain Balance holistic approach works with kids and adults with ADHD to help them strengthen the connections within their brains. This enables individuals to get to the root of their challenges, empowering them to build a stronger foundation for success13. The result is happier, healthier kids and adults who can go on to achieve their goals.

Ready to learn more about managing ADHD and ADD? Please complete the form at the top of the page, and grasp the keys to a balanced brain. 

Reviewed by Dr. Rebecca Jackson




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