What is ADD vs. ADHD, exactly? Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder comprises three distinct subtypes — inattentive (traditionally called ADD), hyperactive-impulse (traditionally called ADHD), and combined. Symptoms vary significantly for each type — from bouncing-of-the-walls energy to quiet spaciness and profound disorganization.
Today, there is no ADD vs. ADHD. ADD and ADHD are considered subtypes of the same condition and the same diagnosis, according to the DSM-5. Similarly, the stereotypical caricature of a person with ADHD — a boisterous, outspoken risk taker — is outdated. Many people with attention deficit disorder — especially girls and women — live with a quiet, spacey form of the condition that's often misunderstood and undiagnosed.
Traditionally, inattentive symptoms of attention deficit like trouble listening or managing time were diagnosed as "ADD." Hyperactive and impulsive symptoms were associated with the term "ADHD."
Here, we explain the differences between ADHD's 3 sub-types.
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What is ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the preferred medical term for the biologically based neurological condition that was once called ADD. It's symptoms fall into with one of three quantifying subtypes:
They also vary in severity from person to person, making diagnosis challenging. The group of behaviors that make up ADHD have been recognized since 1902, though the name has changed over time. According the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11% of children and teens in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD.
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What Is the Meaning of ADD vs. ADHD?
ADHD is the official, medical term for the condition — regardless of whether a patient demonstrates symptoms of hyperactivity. ADD is a now-outdated term that is typically used to describe inattentive-type ADHD, which has symptoms including disorganization, lack of focus, and forgetfulness. People with inattentive ADHD are not hyper or impulsive.
Inattentive ADHD is too often dismissed as spacey, apathetic behavior in children, or misdiagnosed as a mood disorder or anxiety in adults. People with this form of ADHD often lose focus, are forgetful, and seem to have trouble listening. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V (DSM-V), six of the following symptoms must be present and causing a severe impact at school or work to merit a diagnosis.
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 or activities
Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
Is often forgetful in daily activities
Recognizing inattentive ADHD is key to preventing a lifetime of low self esteem and shame.
Hyperactive impulsive type ADHD is the stereotype most people imagine when they think of ADHD: a young boy, bouncing off the walls, and interrupting the teacher mid sentence. Yet, this description fits only a small portion of those with the condition. To have this type, a person must have 6 or more of the following symptoms:
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 it is inappropriate (in adolescents or adults, may be limited to subjective feelings of restlessness).
Has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly.
Appears “on the go” or acts as if “driven by a motor.”
Blurts out the answers before the questions have been completed.
Has difficulty awaiting turn.
Interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games).
Combined type ADHD occurs when someone has 6 or more symptoms of inattention, and 6 or more symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. Men and boys more commonly have hyperactive symptoms, while women and girls more commonly have inattentive. Because of this, men are more commonly diagnosed than women, as their symptoms are more easily recognizable as ADHD.
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What Does ADHD Look Like In Adults?
Adults with inattentive ADHD may make careless mistakes, lose interest quickly, and struggle to follow verbal instructions. They can come off as lazy, disinterested, or forgetful, and they may live with these false, hurtful labels well into their adult life before seeking a diagnosis. We hear many stories of adults who grew up feeling defective or unworthy, never suspecting they had ADHD until their child was diagnosed and they recognized the symptoms in themselves.
To avoid the continued epidemic of missed diagnoses, it's important for medical professionals to recognize all types of ADHD, as well as related conditions often mistaken for ADHD.