What’s the Difference Between ADD vs ADHD?

Professionals and citizens alike used to believe that ADD and ADHD were two distinct, but similar, disorders. In this paradigm, people with ADD struggled with attention while those with ADHD were hyperactive and impulsive.

Today, however, the scientific community generally agrees that ADD is not a separate disorder. Instead, ADHD has three subtypes:

  • Primarily Inattentive
  • Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive
  • Combination

Now, mental health professionals diagnose people with primarily inattentive ADHD if they would have fallen under the ADD category before. Patients with this subtype do not demonstrate hyperactivity or impulsivity as symptoms.

What is ADHD?

ADHD, in all of its subtypes, is a behavioral health disorder that can affect people of all ages. While it is primarily a childhood disorder, some people continue to live with the disorder as they grow into adulthood. Some patients never have ADHD symptoms until they are adults.

About 11 percent of school-aged kids and 4.4 percent of adults in the country live with ADHD. Each person experiences ADHD in his or her own way. However, the disorder generally affects cognitive functions, including concentration, memory, and decision-making.

Parents understandably worry about the increasing rate of ADHD diagnoses. The mental health community has not completely rules out all environmental factors as potential causes. However, all the current research suggests that the rise in ADHD diagnoses is the result of increased awareness among professionals and society at large.

It’s important for worried parents to keep in mind the fact that their children with ADHD will exhibit these symptoms whether or not they receive formal diagnoses. Therefore, it’s better for children with the disorder to get professional help. Therapists can give patients healthy coping mechanisms and tools to help them throughout their lives.

Signs of ADHD in Adults

The symptoms of ADHD vary between people with the disorder. As such, someone with the disorder may exhibit some of the common symptoms, but others. That’s why it’s important to understand all the signs of ADHD in adults.

Inattentive ADHD Symptoms (Formerly known as ADD symptoms)

  • “Zoning out” often
  • Difficulty paying attention to minute details at work or school
  • Distracted easily
  • Short attention span, even when doing something they enjoy
  • Difficulty following multi-step instructions
  • Trouble listening, even to people they love
  • Avoidance of things that require concentration, including work and school
  • Forgetting to complete daily tasks
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts and schedules

Hyperactivity-Impulsivity ADHD Symptoms

  • Trouble accepting delayed gratification
  • Fidgeting all the time
  • Making important decisions on-the-fly
  • Often feeling restless
  • Talking more than most, typically talking quickly
  • Trouble resting and relaxing

People who live with combination ADHD have symptoms from both lists. Some people may exhibit an even split with two or three symptoms from each list. Others may be mostly in one category with one or two symptoms from the other.

All mental and behavioral disorders require symptoms to be frequent and severe enough to interfere with a patient’s daily life. This is an important distinction because people who occasionally feels restless would not qualify for an ADHD diagnosis. Behavioral health professionals require adults to exhibit several ADHD symptoms for at least six months to qualify for formal diagnoses.

ADHD Symptoms in Children

The symptoms of ADHD are similar in kids and adults. However, children often have difficulty expressing the full range of their emotions. As such, it’s important for the adults in their lives to look out for outward-facing signs of ADHD.

Symptoms of Inattentive ADHD in Children:

  • Making seemingly obvious mistakes on their homework
  • Regularly losing their daily necessities, such as backpack or pencils
  • Not staying with one toy or activity for long, especially as compared to peers
  • Avoiding doing activities in which they need to pay attention for extended periods
  • Zoning out when trusted adults try to talk to them

Symptoms of Hyperactivity-Impulsivity ADHD in Children:

  • Interrupting others often
  • Getting up during class at inappropriate times
  • Talking much more than their peers
  • Seeming to never run out of energy
  • Constantly fidgeting during school
  • “Bouncing off the walls,” especially at inappropriate times

Is There an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Test?

Online tests and self-evaluations do not reliably diagnose people with ADHD or any other disorder. Instead, only a licensed behavioral health professional can issue an ADHD diagnosis.

When a professional suspects that an adult lives with ADHD, the professional will talk to the patient about symptoms. They can use simple assessments that patients fill out to make the diagnosis. This is effective as long as the patient is open and honest about his or her symptoms.

With children, the diagnosis process can be a little more complicated than it is with adult patients. Mental health professionals talk to both the parents and the children to determine if the kid has ADHD. In some cases, the professionals want to observe the children at play to understand the behavior.

ADHD Treatment

As of now, there is no permanent cure for ADHD. However, treatments can help patients live full lives with the disorder. Mental health professionals may recommend a lifestyle changes, medication, or therapy to help, depending on the patient’s unique needs.


Stimulants are a type of medication that is often effective for people with ADHD. While it may seem counterintuitive, stimulants help about 70 to 80 percent of children with ADHD. As such, they are often the first prescriptions that doctors recommend.

For the patients that do not tolerate stimulants well, there are alternatives that have been around since 2003. While these medications do not take effect as quickly as stimulants, the effects last longer in many people with ADHD.

Many families feel understandably nervous about starting medication for ADHD. It’s important to remember that mental health professionals do not recommend medication unless they believe the potential benefits outweigh the risks. However, some people may want to try therapy and lifestyles changes first.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy techniques help people with many disorders stop destructive behaviors and reinforce positive behaviors. These techniques work well for people with ADHD as well. Therapists, patients, and their families can find what triggers a person’s symptoms. Then, the counselors can help patients device healthier coping strategies.

In these sessions, therapists will also help parents of children with ADHD. Parents who learn how to help their children with behavioral therapies create consistency, which is vital in the treatment of ADHD.

Lifestyle Changes

Whether patients choose medication or therapy, certain lifestyle changes can enhance the benefits of ADHD treatments. Adults and children with ADHD can see a decrease in symptoms when they:

  • Get regular exercise
  • Sleep at age-appropriate levels
  • Create and follow daily routines
  • Get rid of unnecessary distractions
  • Eat a balanced, nutritious diet

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