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

It’s essential for people 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 think of ADHD as 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ADD, or Attention Deficit Disorder, is actually an outdated term that was once used to describe what we now call ADHD, predominantly inattentive presentation.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.

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, organisation, 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, and 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 even 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 ADD and ADHD, 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

    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.