Types of ADHD & ADD

ADD vs. ADHD Symptoms: 3 Types of Attention Deficit Disorder

ADD is the term commonly used to describe symptoms of inattention, distractibility, and poor working memory. ADHD is the term used to describe additional symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. Both are included in the medical diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Here, we explain its two distinct presentations.

ADD vs ADHD: ADD Symptoms vs. ADHD symptoms visualized as a yin yang mosaic
photo by naql

What Is ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)?

ADD (attention deficit disorder) is the term commonly used to describe a neurological condition with symptoms of inattention, distractibility, and poor working memory. ADD symptoms in adults include trouble focusing on school work, habitually forgetting appointments, easily losing track of time, and struggling with executive functions. Patients with these symptoms may have what clinicians now call Predominantly Inattentive Type attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADD is an outdated term and no longer a medical diagnosis, though it is often still used to refer to a certain subset of symptoms that fall under the umbrella term, ADHD.

The Difference Between ADD and ADHD

Many people use the terms ADD and ADHD interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. ADD (attention deficit disorder) is the colloquial term for one particular type of ADHD — Predominantly Inattentive Type, formerly called attention deficit disorder. To summarize:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological or psychological disorder.
  • Technically speaking, attention deficit disorder (ADD) is no longer a medical diagnosis, but “ADD” is often used to refer to Predominantly Inattentive Type ADHD and associated symptoms
  • Since 1994, doctors have been using the term ADHD to describe both the hyperactive and inattentive subtypes of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder1.
  • Still, many parents, teachers, and adults continue to use the term “ADD.”

Symptoms of ADD (Predominantly Inattentive Type ADHD)

Predominantly Inattentive Type ADHD (formerly ADD) does not present in the same way as the other two types of ADHD, known as Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type ADHD and Combined Type ADHD.

Hallmark symptoms of ADD include:

  1. Poor working memory
  2. Inattention
  3. Distractibility
  4. Poor executive function

Self-Test: ADD Symptoms in Children
Self-Test: ADD Symptoms in Adults

[Free Download: An In-Depth Guide to Inattentive ADHD]

What Is ADHD?

The term ADHD is commonly used to describe what doctors now diagnose as Predominantly Hyperactive Type ADHD. The ADHD symptoms associated with this diagnosis align more closely with the stereotypical understanding of attention deficit:

  • A squirmy, impulsive individual (usually a child)…
  • Bursting with energy…
  • Who struggles to wait his or her turn.

Adults with hyperactive or impulsive ADHD may be…

  • Talkative
  • Fidgety
  • Have nervous energy

Self-Test: ADHD Symptoms in Adults Adults
Self-Test: ADHD Test for Children

What are the Symptom Differences Between ADD and ADHD?

People with ADD often lack the hyperactivity component that is a prominent symptom of Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD. They might be considered daydreamers or appear to be disinterested and disorganized in the classroom or the workplace. They can also be prone to forgetfulness and losing things, and struggle to follow instructions.

In comparison, those with Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD align more closely with the stereotypical understanding of attention deficit — a fidgeting, impulsive individual (usually a child), who is bursting with energy and struggles to wait their turn. Those with this type of ADHD tend to act out and demonstrate behavior problems.

How is ADHD Diagnosed?

There is no single test for Predominantly Inattentive Type ADHD (formerly ADD). In fact, since children with ADD are most often not disruptive in school, they may be mistakenly viewed as simply “shy” or a “in a world of their own.”

To make a diagnosis, your doctor will assess for any ADHD symptoms exhibited in the past six months. They will also do a physical exam and review your medical history to rule out any other medical or psychiatric conditions that could be causing symptoms.

Once a doctor has a full understanding of the presenting symptoms, they will be able to make determine which type of ADHD (if any) is the appropriate diagnosis. Find more information in our comprehensive ADHD diagnosis guide.

A Closer Look at the 3 Types of ADHD

Symptoms of Primarily Inattentive ADHD (Formerly ADD)

People who say they have ADD most likely have symptoms of inattentive type ADHD like forgetfulness and poor focus, organization, and listening skills. Inattentive ADHD often resembles a mood disorder in adults, while it’s seen as spacey, apathetic behavior in children, particularly girls.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V (DSM-V)2, six of the following symptoms must be present to warrant a diagnosis of ADHD, Primarily Inattentive Type:

  • Often fails to give close attention to details, or makes careless mistakes
  • Often has difficulty sustaining attention
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to
  • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish projects
  • Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort
  • Often loses things necessary for tasks/activities
  • Is often easily distracted
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities

If you think you have Primarily Inattentive Type ADHD, take one of our self-tests below and share your results with a medical professional.

Symptoms of Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD

This sub-type encompasses many of ADHD’s stereotypical traits: a child (usually a boy) bouncing off the walls, interrupting in class, and fidgeting almost constantly. In reality, only a small portion of children and adults meet the symptom criteria for this type of ADHD.

According to the DSM-V, six of the following symptoms must be present to warrant a diagnosis:

  • Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat
  • Leaves seat in classroom or in other situations in which remaining seated is expected
  • Runs about or climbs excessively in situations in which is it inappropriate; feelings of restlessness in teens and adults
  • Has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly
  • Appears “on the go” or acts as if “driven by a motor.”
  • Talks excessively
  • Blurts out answers
  • Has difficulty waiting for their turn
  • Interrupts or intrudes on others

Self-Test: Hyperactive and Impulsive ADHD Symptoms in Children
Self-Test: Hyperactive and Impulsive ADHD Symptoms in Adults

Symptoms of Combined Type ADHD occurs if you have six or more symptoms each of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive ADHD.

How Does Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD Look Different from Inattentive ADHD (Formerly ADD) in Everyday Life?

1. Inattentive ADHD Symptom: Careless Mistakes

A child with inattentive ADHD may rush through a quiz, missing questions he knows the answers to or skipping whole sections in his haste. An adult may fail to carefully proofread a document or email at work which leads to more problems.

2. Inattentive ADHD Symptom: Difficulty Sustaining Attention

A child with inattentive ADHD may have trouble staying focused during organized activities, like sports and games, or tasks, like picking up his room. An adult may struggle to maintain attention during lengthy readings or extended conversations.

3. Inattentive ADHD Symptom: Failure to Listen

Children and adults with inattentive ADHD may seem absent-minded when spoken to directly, even though there may not be an obvious distraction. Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., starts tasks but quickly loses focus and is easily sidetracked).

4. Inattentive ADHD Symptom: Difficulty with Instructions

Many children, teens, and adults with inattentive ADHD struggle to follow through on instructions, failing to finish schoolwork, chores, or other duties in the workplace.

5. Inattentive ADHD Symptom: Poor Organization

Organization can be a challenge for those with inattentive ADHD at any age — a child might struggle with keeping her locker organized; a teen may find it difficult to keep college applications straight; and ADHD adults might feel overwhelmed by work emails at the office. A lack of organization often goes hand in hand with messy work, poor time management, and a failure to meet deadlines.

6. Inattentive ADHD Symptom: Avoidance of Difficult Tasks

Adolescents and adults with inattentive ADHD often have a hard time completing projects that require sustained mental effort, like lengthy homework assignments, reviewing documents, and filling out forms.

7. Inattentive ADHD Symptom: Chronically Losing Things

Frequently misplacing important items, like keys, eyeglasses, cell phones, and school materials, can be a sign of inattentive ADHD in kids, adolescents, and adults.

8. Inattentive ADHD Symptom: Easily Distracted

Children with inattentive ADHD may become distracted in the classroom by extraneous stimuli, while adults may simply drift off into unrelated thoughts and lose focus on the task at hand.

9. Inattentive ADHD Symptom: Forgetfulness

Whether it’s remembering to take the trash out, pay a bill, or return an email, inattentive ADHD often presents as forgetfulness, especially in teens and adults.

Do More Women Have Inattentive Type ADHD Than Have Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD?

ADHD isn’t gender-biased, but it often goes undiagnosed in girls. More women and girls have Inattentive ADHD than have Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD. Young girls and women who struggle with inattentive ADHD symptoms are overshadowed by hyperactive boys, who demonstrate more stereotypical hyperactive ADHD behavior. Instead of detecting their symptoms as ADHD, medical professionals frequently mistake them for mood disorders. If you think you or your daughter may have ADHD symptoms, take our ADHD test for women and girls and share your results with a medical professional.

That said, Inattentive Type ADHD is not exclusive to girls. Many boys have this subtype of ADHD, though their symptoms may be similarly overlooked or misdiagnosed due to gender stereotypes.

ADDitude Seems to Write Only About ADHD. Why Is That?

ADDitudeMag.com offers a wide range of articles about ADD and ADHD, which is the official, medical term used to describe attention deficit disorder — regardless of whether a patient has symptoms of hyperactivity. Because “ADD” is considered an outdated term by medical practitioners, we use the term “inattentive ADHD” to describe the sub-type not associated with hyperactivity or impulsivity. We use the term ADHD to broadly mean both the inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive sub-types, and “hyperactive/inattentive ADHD” when appropriate as well.

ADD vs. ADHD: Next Steps


1 Lange, Klaus W et al. “The history of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.” Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders (Nov. 2010). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3000907/

2 Symptoms and Diagnosis of ADHD. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition. American Psychiatric Association (2013). https://www.(d(.gov/ncbddd/adhd/diagnosis.html

16 Comments & Reviews

  1. I am 60 year old dude and was recently diagnosed with ADD. I’ve always known that I’ve had some sort of mental quirk/idiosyncracy but now I know the name of this sleeper cell agent that has been imbedded inside my very own brain all these years.

    I absolutely bristle at being classified as ADHD. I do not have nor ever have had HYPERACTIVITY. This adds another layer of insult to this already embarrassing disease and is like accusing me of a crime I did not commit. So, you psych experts, if you are going to assign labels at least get it right.

  2. I take strong exception to using the catch-all term ADHD when Hyperactivity does not apply. If an employer or potential employer should discover that the prospective hire has what is technically called ADHD what do you think is going to happen? Right! They will search the internet and assume that the person in question can’t sit still in an important customer-facing meeting.

    Call me an ADD sufferer but don’t add the ‘H’ where it doesn’t apply. This is like accusing me of a crime I didn’t commit and adds another level of insult to an already embarrassing affliction. And all because the psych industry wants to have an all-inclusive term.

  3. People with ADD are those I characterize as having a creative type ADHD. Their hyperactivity is in the brain due to excess adrenaline as a neurotransmitter. Characteristically, they are very intuitive about other people, have premonitions and deja vu experiences, and will notice that animals and small children are attracted to them.

    People with ADHD have excess adrenaline as a hormone, giving rise to their hyperactivity. And then there are the people who have both types – and these are often the most successful people there are, such as the heads of corporations like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – who never finished college.

    Some day people will realize that ADHD is not a learning disorder, it is an interest disorder. If they are interested, they will focus. The most intelligent, creative, successful people have ADHD. By treating the cause, it can be eliminated in as little as 24 hours. By the way, the stimulants that are used to treat it are all drugs that increase adrenaline with the intent of numbing the mind. If a person does not have ADHD, the drugs will give it to them. This is why sudden death is one of the side effects.

    Questions?: [email protected]

  4. Read my post above. ADD should NOT be an outdated term. Adding in the ‘H’ where it does not apply is only because lazy psychologists and psychiatrists want a single catch-all label. I have always had ADD but no grade school teacher ever had to slug me or slap me because of being antsy and unable to sit still.

    Imagine a grade school kid transferring from one school to another. The new school gets a transcript and confidential record of said student with the ADHD classification. Suppose this kid is not a disruption in class but the new school does not believe it. Then he gets put into the special-ed class with the troublemakers and the dumb-asses.

    It’s bad enough that I have ADD but Goddammit don’t label me as ADHD!

  5. This article unfortunately is outdated. The work of Robert Plomin amongst others show that you can’t box adhd into three categories. If you think rationally here like most things it’s genetic variables across thousands of genes and each gene affectation will be on a continuum that will be different to the next person who has ADHD. I see how simplifying it helps however as it will be very difficult to explain what’s going on mainly as we don’t know. The only way forward is to push the message that there is this thing called adhd. It affects people differently and how you live your life can ease negative symptoms and also you can use it to your advantage if you know how.

  6. I disagree with the comment that inattentive ADHD is an interest disorder and if they’re interested, they will focus. Totally not true of me! I have difficulty focusing on just about everything at some time or another. And I also procrastinate fun things as well as unpleasant things. It’s easier to focus on easy things.

  7. “ADDsecret,” your comments are offensive and horribly negative about people with ADHD of any type. Especially offensive is calling special-ed students “the troublemakers and the dumb-asses”! And I hope grade school teachers aren’t “slugging” or “slapping” any student! You can call your condition whatever you want, but no need to insult others.

  8. Sorry if I came off as snarky and rude. I got a little, uh, carried away. As you might have noticed, this ADD condition has NEVER been any kind of gift to me, only an embarrassment in both social and business settings and I have paid dearly for it. It still stings and I am trying to come to terms with it.

    About me: I am in my late 60s and recently retired. I always knew I was different but way back then there was no DSM definition for it. Despite all of this I did manage to have a reasonably successful career as an engineer but I was never considered for a management position.

    I have been around the block and seen it all and I passionately want to share my perspective. Whenever I hear any suggestions about going public with ADD/ADHD I cringe. This is absolutely bad advice, especially in the workplace. An HR director once told me that he could fire anyone he wanted and make it all look legit. Believe me, I have seen it happen so many times.

    I was in grade school in the late 1950s and I did personally witness physical abuse from a FEW teachers. At that time ADD/ADHD was not known by any formal name but I remember one boy in particular who routinely got his hands slapped with a ruler and sent to the principal’s office for not being able to sit still. Fortunately, that kind of behavior by teachers is now banned.

    So I still think that I have a valid point in my first post above. Instead of calling it ‘ADHD without Hyperactivity’, why not just call it ADD? If Hyperactivity does apply, call it ‘ADD with Hyperactivity’ if Hyperactivity is present.

  9. (Continuation of my remarks above). As you might have noticed, this ADD condition has NEVER been any kind of gift to me, only an embarrassment in both social and business settings and I have paid dearly for it. It still stings and I am still struggling to come to terms with it.

    I was in grade school in the late 1950s and I did personally witness physical abuse by a FEW teachers. At tat time ADD/ADHD was not known by any formal name but I remember one boy in particular boy who routinely got his hands slapped with a ruler and sent to the principal’s office for not being able to sit still.. Fortunately, that kind of conduct by teachers is now banned.

    I think that I still have a valid point in my first post above. Instead of calling it ‘ADHD without Hyperactivity’ why not just call it ADD? If Hyperactivity does apply, why not call it ‘ADD with Hyperactivity if Hyperactivity is present?

  10. I completely agree with ADDsecret. The hyperactive element in ‘ADHD’ does not apply to those of us who are inattentive only, so ‘ADHD’ is an inadequate and misleading description.

    ADD and ADHD are not the same thing at all.

  11. I wish that the ADDitude blog could allow retroactive corrections and edits, so I am posting this more detailed update intended to supersede my posts above.

    Julie G and any others I may have offended: I owe and offer up a sincere apology to my posts above. I cannot un-ring a bell. I do not expect nor do I seek anyone’s forgiveness.

    As I mentioned earlier, ADD/ADHD is a terrible condition and for me personally it has been an unmitigated disaster in both my business and personal lives. Two of the symptoms of this disorder are the tendencies to blurt out ill-considered remarks and be quick to anger. I amply demonstrated that. I am sorry.

    Regarding corporal punishment in the schools, let me make it clear that I do NOT condone it. Back in 1958 or so I remember one particular boy in 4th Grade named Jimmy. Jimmy was constantly fidgeting and getting up and pacing the classroom.

    The teacher, whom I’ll call Mrs. Martinet, was a sixtyish woman and a harsh disciplinarian. She thought that all boys were incorrigible miscreants and she took an instant dislike of Jimmy. She frequently slapped (WHAP! WHAP!) his hands with a ruler and sent him to the principal’s office.

    One day she took classroom cruelty to an unbelievable level. She “deputized” Billy, the class bully to “supervise” Jimmy. Every Friday Billy had to get up in front of the class and deliver an oral “progress” report on Jimmy, a duty he relished.

    I felt sorry for Jimmy even back then. The school that was supposed to nurture him tortured him. If I had had hyperactivity I would have been joining him in the principal’s office. Soon after that we moved to a different state. I can only hope that Jimmy eventually survived his nightmarish existence.

    Athelstan: Thank you for your message of support. You correctly understand my sentiments. If we are going to assign labels to people, they should be accurate, concise and devoid of any possible interpretations.

    Thank you, Additude, for being in my corner.

    Peace be with you, all of you.

  12. ADDsecret, I agree with you 100% regarding the blanket term ADHD, even though that is my sub-type. Yes, ADD and ADHD share some common symptoms, but the primary difference of inattentive and hyperactive are on totally different ends of the spectrum. A new term is needed that is simple and short to which can be added ADD or ADHD. Example: She has xyz/sub-type ADD or in my case ADHD. This article makes it very clear that ADD and ADHD are different, so why choose ADHD as the “disorder” designation. Choose a more generic term and add the sub-type to clarify the diagnosis for each individual. To say that my ADD sister and I should both be diagnosed as ADHD would both be wrong and confusing to those who know us. We are very opposite in the way this “disorder” presents itself in our actions (or lack of action). I have seen suggestions elsewhere on what ADHD should be replaced with, but frankly they sound like gibberish to me. Give me clarity that most of those who need to know will intuitively understand the term without having to look it up. OK that’s my hyperactive brain causing me to ramble. Enough said, but I’m with you on this ADDsecret!

  13. Beulah,
    Thank you for your message of support. You stated my argument very well. In typical topic headings in an article or chapter in a book, the general topic is ADD. The subtopics underneath it are: Hyperactivity Type; Inattentive Type; Combined Type. This, I believe, is a more logical way to describe the ADD condition for each individual patient.

    Thank you again for your understanding and agreeing with me. This blog unfortunately does not allow retroactive edits. My last sentence in my reply to you two entries above should read “If we are going to assign labels to people they should be accurate, concise and devoid of any possible MISinterpretations.”

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