Understanding the Difference Between ADD and ADHD

Historically, the mental health profession regarded ADD and ADHD as separate but related disorders. Today, consensus defines ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as an umbrella category with three sub-types:

  • Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive
  • Primarily Inattentive
  • Combination

Based on this, ADD is no longer given as a diagnosis. Instead, mental health professionals categorize those who would have been diagnosed as having ADD in the past as now having  the Primary Inattentive subtype of ADHD. A significant differentiator from other subtypes is the absence of hyperactivity. 

What was formerly referred to as ADHD is now categorized as Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD. Finally, Combination ADHD is reserved for those patients who exhibit some combination of inattentive traits with hyperactive traits.  


Defining ADHD

ADHD affects everything from memory to concentration and can have serious effects on a patient’s cognitive abilities. This mental health disorder affects 11 percent of school-aged American minors and 4.4 percent of U.S. adults.

While the media often portrays this disorder as a childhood problem, it can affect individuals of any age. ADHD can present in childhood, and patients do not always grow out of it; however, in some cases ADHD does not present until adulthood.  

One issue of concern for parents is the uptick in diagnoses in recent years. While the jury is still out on the effect of environmental factors, most professionals agree that the uptick stems from increased awareness and understanding of the disorder, both in the population at large and the medical community.  

Avoiding a diagnosis does not eliminate symptoms, whereas a child who receives a diagnosis and subsequent therapies can benefit significantly from these interventions.  


ADHD in Adults

As with any mental health disorder, symptoms in ADHD can vary from patient to patient. That being said, anyone who presents with any of the following symptoms so that it affects their daily life should consider consulting with a mental health professional for assessment of possible ADHD. 

Inattentive ADHD Symptoms

  • Paying little to no attention to small details at school or work
  • Having little capacity to attend to detail, whether at work or at school
  • Brief attention span, even in preferred activities
  • An inability to listen 
  • Faulty executive function
  • Forgetfulness, even with daily tasks
  •  An avoidance of settings or tasks that demand high levels of concentration
  • An inability to follow instruction
  • Highly distracted
  • A tendency to zone out

Hyperactivity-Impulsivity ADHD Symptoms

  • A need to fidget
  • Feelings of restlessness
  • An ability to relax
  • Rapid speech patterns
  • Rapid decision making
  • An inability to delay gratification

Those with Combination ADHD may have a mix of any of the above symptoms from both disorders.

As with any mental health issue, diagnostic criteria requires that symptoms interfere with a patient’s ability to lead a normal life. Occasional hyperactivity would not qualify for diagnosis. In adults, patients should have at least six symptoms, and these must be present for at least six months to receive a diagnosis. 


Childhood ADHD Symptoms

Children with ADHD experience many of the symptoms that adults do. Children are not as adept at expressing their needs and feelings, however, and may demonstrate their symptoms in other ways.  

Childhood Inattentive ADHD Symptoms

  • Tendency to make errors in homework when the answer is obvious
  • Moving from one game or toy to another in quick succession
  •  Not attending to conversations
  • Avoiding activities that require staying still or quiet
  • Losing items on a regular basis

Childhood Hyperactivity-Impulsivity ADHD Symptoms

  • Getting up in class when it is not allowed
  • Constant fidgeting
  • Behaving inappropriately or loudly 
  • Exhibiting excessing energy
  • “Out-talking” children in their age group
  • Interrupting

Can You Test for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

Those interested in finding out whether they or a loved one has ADHD should not rely on online quizzes. Diagnosis can only come from a mental health professional.  

To assess for ADHD, a mental health professional will run a series of tests and assessments. This may involve the patient answering surveys; when minors are involved, parents or even teachers may answer surveys. 


Treating ADHD

There is currently no known cure for ADHD. There are, however, various treatment options available. These can include therapy, medication, and lifestyle adjustments. Therapists may recommend some combination of the above, as well.  

Medication Options for ADHD

A point of confusion for those unfamiliar with ADHD is that stimulants are the most common type of medication used to treat ADHD. These medications can help as many as 80 percent of patients. 

Non-stimulants can also be effective with ADHD, but they take longer to work. In the long run, however, they can be more effective. Any patient who has a negative reaction to stimulants can benefit from these alternatives.

Addressing ADHD with Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is another effective intervention for those with ADHD. In behavioral therapy, the patient and therapist work together to identify triggers and develop skills that help the patient deal with triggers. When the child is a patient, the therapist will often work with the parents as well to build their own skills in dealing with the child’s symptoms. A comprehensive and consistent approach to behavioral change is necessary for success. 

Lifestyle Changes and ADHD

Adults and children with ADHD can benefit from lifestyle changes, including:

  • adjustments to daily tasks and routines
  • decreasing distractions
  • maintaining a healthy diet
  • getting exercise
  • sleeping well

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