ADD vs ADHD: What is the difference between ADD and ADHD?

People need to have a clear grasp of the differences between ADD and ADHD. 

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, a common neurodevelopmental disorder that affects both children and adults. Symptoms of ADHD can manifest in three main ways: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Now, let’s consider ADHD a big umbrella, under which we have different types, or “flavours” if you will. And that’s where ADD comes in.

ADD, or Attention Deficit Disorder, is actually an outdated term that was once used to describe what we now call ADHD, predominantly inattentive presentation. ADD and ADHD are often used interchangeably, but it’s essential to understand that ADD is now considered part of the broader ADHD spectrum. So, when you hear ADD, think of it as the “quieter sibling” of ADHD.


Why is it important to understand the differences between ADD and ADHD?


Understanding the differences between ADD vs. ADHD is crucial for several reasons:

1. Accurate Diagnosis

ADD is about attention, and ADHD adds hyperactivity and impulsiveness, so getting the diagnosis right is key to the right treatment.

2. Effective Treatment

It’s key to get the difference between ADD and ADHD. For ADHD, it’s usually about meds and therapy for the hyperactive stuff. For ADD, the focus is more on handling attention challenges.

3. Educational and Occupational Support 

Knowing these differences helps educators and employers offer the right support. For example, people with ADHD might need exercise and breaks, while those with ADD could use help to stay focused without breaks.

4. Social and Emotional Development 

Knowing the differences is key to understanding their social and emotional challenges: ADHD leads to social issues from impulsivity and hyperactivity, while ADD causes focus problems in social settings.

5. Awareness and Stigma Reduction

Grasping the differences between ADD vs. ADHD aids in public education lessens misconceptions and stigma, and highlights the distinct challenges of each, promoting empathy and understanding.

6. Personalized Coping Strategies

People with either ADHD or ADD can create coping strategies that suit them. What helps a person with ADHD may not work as well for someone with ADD because their symptoms are different.

7. Family and Relationship Support

Knowing these differences helps families and friends get along better and offers more effective support. It’s useful for creating realistic expectations and developing a supportive home atmosphere.


Understanding ADHD


ADHD Definition

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition that mainly affects a person’s ability to focus, control impulsive behaviours, or may cause them to be overly active. It’s not just a childhood issue; it can continue into adulthood. Those with ADHD might find it hard to pay attention, follow directions, or wait their turn, making day-to-day activities challenging. It’s not about being occasionally distracted or energetic – it’s more intense and persistent and can impact someone’s life at school, work, or in relationships. Treatment often involves a combo of medication, therapy, and lifestyle adjustments to help manage symptoms and improve functioning.

Core symptoms of ADHD

Professional medics have divided ADHD symptoms into three subtypes: Predominantly Inattentive, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive, and Combined. The Combined type includes symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. It’s important to note that while these are core symptoms, the actual presentation can vary greatly among individuals. A healthcare professional should conduct diagnosis and treatment.

ADHD symptoms mainly include:

  • Inattention: Trouble focusing, disorganization, forgetfulness.
  • Hyperactivity: Constant restlessness, difficulty staying still.
  • Impulsivity: Acting without thinking, impatience.
  • Difficulty in Engaging in Activities Quietly: Always on the go, as if ‘driven by a motor.’
  • Excessive Talking: Talking excessively, often without appropriate pauses or turn-taking in conversations.

These behaviours are more intense and frequent than typical and can significantly disrupt daily life.

Prevalence of ADHD in children and adults

The prevalence of ADHD, or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, varies significantly between children and adults. When we talk about ADHD in children, we refer to a condition marked by noticeable inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness, impacting their learning and social interactions. This term captures young people’s challenges in staying focused and managing their energy levels.

On the other hand, ADHD in adults often presents more subtly, but it’s no less impactful. It might affect work performance, personal relationships, and self-regulation, showcasing how ADHD evolves and persists throughout different life stages. Both ADHD in children and ADHD in adults highlight the condition’s broad spectrum and its profound influence on individuals’ lives.


Understanding ADD


ADD Definition

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is a mental health condition characterized by a pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. People with ADD need help focusing on tasks, following detailed instructions or remaining organized. It can lead to difficulties in academic, work, and social situations. However, it’s important to note that ADD exhibits differently in everyone, and those with ADD often have unique strengths such as creativity and innovative thinking.

ADD: Historical Context and Terminology

Let’s briefly peek into the overview of the history and terminology of Attention Deficit Disorder, which comprises:

  • Early Recognition: In the late 18th century, observers first noted the concept of ADD.
  • 20th Century: Originally linked to hyperactivity from brain injuries.
  • 1950s-60s: Known as ‘Hyperkinetic Impulse Disorder’ focusing on hyperactivity.
  • The 1970s: The term ‘Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)’ was introduced, highlighting attention issues.
  • 1980s-Present: Evolved into ‘Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)’ with subtypes encompassing attention and hyperactivity/impulsivity issues.

ADD is an older term, mostly replaced by ADHD, which includes various types of attention and hyperactivity disorders.

Core symptoms of ADD

Core symptoms of ADD (Predominantly Inattentive Type ADHD) include:

  • Inattention: Difficulty sustaining attention, prone to distractions, and careless mistakes.
  • Disorganization: Task organization challenges, resulting in time management issues and missed deadlines.
  • Forgetfulness: Tendency to forget daily activities, appointments, or obligations.
  • Difficulty Following Through: Initiating tasks is possible, but a lack of sustained focus often makes completing them difficult.
  • Avoidance of Tasks Requiring Sustained Mental Effort: This includes extensive reading, preparing reports, or completing lengthy forms.

Losing Things: Frequently misplacing essential items like keys, wallets, or documents.


What’s the key difference between ADD and ADHD, then? 

It primarily lies in the presence or absence of hyperactivity. Individuals with ADD (ADHD, predominantly inattentive presentation) experience difficulty with focus, organization, and time management but may not exhibit the hyperactivity and impulsivity commonly associated with ADHD. On the other hand, those with ADHD may struggle with inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, or any combination of these symptoms.

Imagine a busy highway, with cars zipping by at breakneck speeds. That’s what it can feel like inside the mind of someone with ADHD, with thoughts racing and seemingly out of control. Now, picture a foggy road where it’s difficult to see what’s ahead or around the bend. That’s more like the experience of someone with ADD, where the struggle lies in maintaining focus and staying on track.

ADHD Therapy

Diagnostic Criteria: Navigating the Subtle Differences

When it comes to diagnosing ADHD and ADD, mental health professionals rely on the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). As we’ve discussed, ADD is now considered part of ADHD, with the main difference being the presence or absence of hyperactivity. 

Here, we’ll break down the specific criteria for each presentation.

For ADD:

  1. Struggles with focus and attention to detail
  2. Difficulty sustaining attention on tasks or activities
  3. Appears not to listen when spoken to directly
  4. Fails to follow through on instructions or complete tasks
  5. Trouble with organisation and time management
  6. Regularly loses items necessary for tasks or activities
  7. Easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
  8. Forgetful in daily activities

ADHD, Combined Presentation (includes hyperactivity and impulsivity):

  1. All of the inattentive symptoms listed above
  2. Fidgets, taps hands or feet, or squirms in their seat
  3. Leaves seat in situations where remaining seated is expected
  4. Runs or climbs excessively or feels restless (in adults)
  5. Unable to engage in leisure activities quietly
  6. Always “on the go” or acts as if “driven by a motor”
  7. Excessive talking
  8. Blurts out answers before questions have been completed
  9. Difficulty waiting their turn
  10. Interrupts or intrudes on others

    Treatment Approaches: Tailoring Interventions for ADD and ADHD

    While ADD and ADHD share many similarities, it’s crucial to tailor treatment approaches to address the unique challenges of each presentation. Let’s take a look at how treatments might differ for these two presentations

    For ADD:

    1. Behavioural therapy focusing on organisation, time management, and attention training
    2. Academic support, such as tutoring or accommodations in school settings
    3. Mindfulness and meditation techniques to enhance focus
    4. Parent training to help create structured home environments
    5. Stimulant medications, such as Ritalin or Adderall, may be considered

    For ADHD, Combined Presentation (includes hyperactivity and impulsivity):

    1. Behavioural therapy targeting impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention
    2. Social skills training to improve interactions with peers and authority figures
    3. Psychoeducation to help individuals and families understand the condition
    4. Mindfulness and relaxation techniques to manage restlessness and impulsivity
    5. Stimulant medications, such as Ritalin or Adderall, or non-stimulant medications like atomoxetine or guanfacine, depending on individual needs

    The Role of Medical Professionals and Assessments

    The role of medical professionals and assessments in the diagnosis and management of ADD and ADHD is crucial for effective intervention and support. Here are key aspects of their involvement:

    Diagnosis and Assessment:

    Physicians and psychologists collaborate for a comprehensive assessment, considering symptoms and history.

    Testing and Observation:

    Standardized tests and observations help evaluate cognitive functions and behaviour.

    Rating Scales and Questionnaires:

    Tools completed by various sources gauge symptom severity.

    Treatment Planning:

    Collaborative plans, including medication and behavioural therapy, are developed by medical professionals, psychologists, and educators.

    Medication Management:

    Psychiatrists or pediatricians prescribe and monitor medications, adjusting as needed.

    School Collaboration:

    Educators work with medical professionals to implement interventions and accommodations.

    Long-Term Monitoring:

    Ongoing assessments ensure treatment effectiveness and address emerging concerns.

    In summary, medical professionals lead in diagnosis, treatment planning, and monitoring, working collaboratively for effective ADHD management.


    Similarities Between ADD and ADHD

    ADD vs ADHD

    Both ADD and ADHD share commonalities in terms of difficulties with attention, organization, and time management. Individuals with both conditions may struggle to focus, stay organized, and manage their time effectively. Additionally, impulsivity and hyperactivity are also common features of both ADD and ADHD, although they may exhibit differently in each condition.

    These shared characteristics can lead to challenges in various aspects of life, such as academic performance, work productivity, and interpersonal relationships. It’s important to recognize these commonalities to provide appropriate support and interventions tailored to the specific needs of individuals with ADD or ADHD.

    ADD vs. ADHD: Overlapping Symptoms and Challenges 

    ADD and ADHD share overlapping symptoms and medics often use the terms interchangeably. Common features include:


    • Difficulty sustaining attention.
    • Careless mistakes and forgetfulness.


    • Restlessness and difficulty staying seated.
    • Trouble engaging in quiet activities.


    • Impulsive decision-making.
    • Interrupting others or blurting out answers.

    Executive Functioning Challenges:

    • Difficulty organizing tasks and managing time.
    • Academic and Occupational Challenges:
    • Struggles in educational or work settings.

    Social and Interpersonal Difficulties:

    • Challenges in forming and maintaining relationships.

    Emotional Regulation:

    • Mood swings and difficulty managing frustration.


    Misconceptions about ADD and ADHD

    Misconceptions about Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) often result from a lack of awareness about the neurological basis of these conditions. One common fallacy is attributing the challenges faced by individuals with ADD or ADHD to a lack of discipline instead of recognizing the underlying neurodevelopmental differences. Another misconception is that ADHD is a childhood issue that individuals outgrow, disregarding its potential persistence into adulthood.

    These misconceptions can lead to harmful misunderstandings, fueling stigma and diminishing the legitimate struggles of those with ADD or ADHD. The belief that sheer willpower can overcome these conditions or naturally fade with age can result in a lack of empathy and inadequate support. Dispelling these myths and promoting a more accurate understanding of ADD and ADHD as lifelong neurological conditions can foster compassion, reduce stigma, and facilitate better support structures for individuals dealing with these challenges.


    Living with ADD or ADHD

    Advice for Individuals and Families Affected by ADD or ADHD

    Living with ADD or ADHD poses challenges, but with proper support and advice, individuals and families can fight back against these conditions more effectively. Creating a structured routine, breaking tasks into manageable steps, and utilizing technology like reminder apps can ease daily challenges. While open family communication develops understanding, seeking professional guidance and joining support groups builds a strong support network for emotional and practical assistance. Recognizing and celebrating strengths associated with ADD or ADHD contributes to a positive mindset and boosts self-esteem.

    Coping Strategies, Support Networks, and Resources for ADD and ADHD

    Coping with ADHD involves practical strategies and strong support networks. Establishing routines, breaking tasks into smaller steps, and using technology help manage time effectively. Open communication within the family and education about these conditions build understanding. Healthcare providers and psychologists offer professional guidance for tailored coping strategies. Local and online support groups provide a sense of community and shared experiences. Staying informed about the latest research and treatment options, along with accessing resources from organizations specializing in ADD and ADHD support, enhances the quality of life for those affected.


    Lifestyle Adjustment to Help Manage ADD/ADHD Symptoms

    Managing ADD and ADHD requires a mix of strategies, including lifestyle changes. These can support but not replace medical advice or treatment. Here are some helpful adjustments for ADD/ADHD:

    Regular Exercise and Healthy Diet

    • Engage in physical activities like walking, jogging, or swimming regularly.
    • Maintain a balanced diet with whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.

    Adequate Sleep and Structured Routine

    • Ensure a consistent sleep schedule with enough hours each night.
    • Establish a daily routine with specific meal times, work/study, recreation, and bedtime.

    Organizational Strategies and Limiting Distractions

    • Use tools like planners, calendars, and reminders for task organization.
    • Create a clutter-free and organized environment to minimize distractions.

    Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

    • Practice meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga for improved attention and stress reduction.

    Social Support and Behavioral Therapy

    • Seek support from friends, family, or support groups who understand ADHD challenges.
    • Consider behavioural therapy to learn specific skills for managing symptoms.

    Limit Screen Time and Continued Education

    • Set boundaries on the use of electronic devices to reduce potential attention difficulties.
    • Stay informed about ADHD through continued education to empower individuals and their families.

    Medication Management

    • Take medication as directed and communicate regularly with healthcare providers if prescribed.

    Remember, individual needs may vary, so it’s important to tailor these strategies to specific circumstances with healthcare professionals’ guidance.


    Beyond the Basics: Deeper Understanding of ADHD/ADD

    Looking beyond the basics of ADHD/ADD reveals a more detailed and varied picture of these conditions. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) affect how people pay attention, control impulses, and manage tasks. While we often hear about inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity as common symptoms, a closer look shows that individuals can experience ADHD/ADD in different ways, with their own set of challenges and strengths.

    Understanding ADHD/ADD more deeply means realizing that it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. People may show mainly inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, or a combination of both symptoms. Recent research tells us that executive functions like working memory and cognitive flexibility play a big role in how ADHD shows up. It means that each person’s experience with ADHD/ADD is unique. Additionally, factors like anxiety, depression, or learning difficulties can be part of the picture, making it important to have personalized approaches for diagnosis and treatment. By looking at the details, we can move away from simple ideas about ADHD/ADD and offer better understanding, support, and help for those dealing with these conditions.



    Understanding the differences between ADD and ADHD is essential for several reasons. While ADD and ADHD share common symptoms and challenges, the key distinction lies in the presence or absence of hyperactivity. It is crucial to tailor treatment approaches to address the unique challenges of each presentation involving medical professionals, standardized assessments, and collaborative planning.

    Beyond the basics, a deeper understanding of ADHD/ADD recognizes the individual variability in symptom presentation and the role of executive functions, allowing for more personalized approaches to diagnosis and treatment. It is vital to dispel misconceptions, build empathy, and provide support networks and resources to empower individuals and families affected by these conditions.

    In short, it’s important to recognise that ADD and ADHD are part of the same family but with slightly different manifestations. Understanding these differences can help individuals, families, and professionals provide better support and implement appropriate interventions for those affected by these conditions.