ADD vs ADHD: What's the Difference?

For decades, the term ADD — or “attention deficit disorder” — was used by clinicians to refer to individuals who had trouble focusing. However, by 1994, researchers had gained a deeper understanding of the condition and revised the DMS-IV — which outlines the diagnostic criteria for ADHD — so that it no longer distinguished between ADD and ADHD but rather subcategorized the types of ADHD. The DMS-V, which was published in 2013, contains the most recent diagnostic criteria and details the ways the various subcategories of ADHD present themselves in individuals at various stages of their lives.

Understanding ADHD and how it presents itself is crucial to diagnosing and treating the condition. If you, as a parent, want the best possible outcomes for a child who lives with symptoms of the condition, familiarize yourself with the differences between ADD and ADHD and their treatments.

What Is ADD?

Though an outdated term, ADD is still used to refer to someone who is easily distracted and prone to “daydreaming” but who is not hyperactive. The DMS-V refers to this type of ADHD as Predominantly Inattentive Type ADHD. Though symptoms of ADD vary from person to person, the hallmark signs are as follows:

  • Trouble paying attention
  • Difficulty staying on task
  • Avoiding long mental tasks
  • Disorganization
  • Forgetfulness
  • Spaciness when being spoken to
  • Inability to pay attention to details or to follow through with directions
  • Prone to careless mistakes

Because the symptoms are not overt or necessarily interruptive, children who present ADHD in this way often go undiagnosed.

What Is ADHD?

The symptoms of ADHD, which doctors classify as Predominantly Hyperactive Type ADHD, more closely resemble the stereotypical understanding of the condition. Common symptoms of this type of ADHD include the following:

  • Squirmy or impulsive behavior
  • Tendency to interrupt others, speak out of turn or shout out answers in   class
  • Excessive talking
  • Running and climbing in inappropriate situations
  • Fidgeting or tapping
  • Acting “on the go” all the time

Because children who live with the predominant form are much more disruptive than those whose symptoms more closely align with the inattentive type, they are much more likely to receive a diagnosis at a young age.

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ADD & ADHD Symptom Differences

Before the 1980s, clinicians categorized ADD and ADHD as two separate conditions. However, the DMS-V no longer distinguishes between the two but rather, considers them subtypes of the same disorder. That said, those with the classical “ADD” are primarily inattentive, forgetful, disorganized, spacey and quiet. Those with the traditional ADHD, on the other hand, are hyperactive, impulsive, fidgety and boisterous.

It’s important to note that a child who lives with ADHD does not necessarily have to fall into one distinct category. Many children and adults live with the condition that presents itself through both inattentiveness and hyperactivity. When this occurs, clinicians refer to it as ADHD Combined Presentation.

ADD & ADHD Treatment Differences

Treatments for both ADD and ADHD are designed to help the individual manage symptoms, not cure the condition. Additionally, many children and adults require a combination of treatments, which may evolve over time as symptoms come and go. Common courses of treatment may include stimulant medications, behavior therapy, education services, counseling or all of the above.

Although medication can be extremely helpful for some, there are other approaches that one might be interested in taking, such as a lifestyle-based approach. Making healthier lifestyle changes can greatly improve symptoms of anxiety/irritability/poor focus etc. For example, improving nutrition, getting a better night's sleep, practicing mindfulness/relaxation techniques and controlling screen time are all ways in which parents can positively influence their child’s anxiety and hyperactivity

If you are finding that lifestyle alterations aren’t enough, there are still other options to choose from! You can receive additional support from over-the-counter options that work well without carrying harmful side effects. Solutions that will reduce your child’s symptoms while allowing their personality and potential shine through. 

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