Difference Between ADD and ADHD

Is there a difference between ADD and ADHD?

Have you ever wondered if your child has ADD / ADHD? Many people use these terms interchangeably, but do you know the difference between ADD and ADHD?

Maybe you have heard these terms tossed around in family settings when a particular child is squirmy or energetic. You may think your child has ADHD if the child has boundless energy and wears you out by the end of the day.

Others wonder if their child has ADD or ADHD because of poor performance in school. However, ADHD is a medical term and requires a medical diagnosis. Many children are simply more active than other children, and other children may have another learning disability that causes them to struggle in school.

So, just what is the difference between ADD and ADHD? How do these conditions affect children and their development?

Understanding the difference between ADD and ADHD is the first step to receiving the needed resources available. In addition, understanding these common disorders will help guide families in coping with the effects of it.

How do ADD and ADHD differ?

ADHD is a brain-based disorder that requires a mental health professional to diagnose. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) updated its definition of ADHD to include three categories of the condition.

Categories of ADHD

  1. ADHD that predominantly presents itself with inattentive symptoms (ADD)
  2. ADHD that predominantly presents itself with hyperactive symptoms (hyperactive dominant)
  3. ADHD that predominantly presents itself with a mixture of both inattentive and hyperactive symptoms

According to their definition, ADD is a type (form) of ADHD. Let's delve into the specifics of each to see what these symptoms would look like when present.

What symptoms are present in a child with ADD?

When a child has the ADD form of ADHD, you will notice he or she has difficulty concentrating and paying attention. Just like the definition states the children are inattentive. Their inability to pay attention results in several other symptoms.

Other symptoms of ADD include

  • Distracted easily
  • Forgets simple activities
  • Prone to making careless mistakes
  • Difficulty staying on a task or project
  • Has problems completing tasks or projects with multiple steps
  • Does not complete schoolwork or chores
  • Struggles to organize work and projects easily
  • Averse to projects that require extended focus or concentration
  • Becomes side-tracked easily
  • Tends to lose important items relating to schoolwork or chores

What symptoms are present in a child with ADHD?

Children with the hyperactive and impulsive version of ADHD stand out more in a school setting because of their constant movement. They have a difficult time shutting down their drive to be always moving and this leads to many struggles.

Other symptoms of ADHD include

  • Constantly on the move
  • Extremely talkative
  • Cannot wait for their turn
  • Impulsive
  • Very fidgety when they need to be seated
  • Great difficulty remaining in their seat when it is required
  • Will proceed to run, jump, and climb when not appropriate
  • Does not play quietly or enjoy calm activities such as puzzles, reading, or coloring
  • Calls out answers without hearing the complete question
  • Bursts in on others' conversation and interrupts

Combined presentation of ADHD

Children who show symptoms of inattentiveness and hyperactivity/impulsivity have the “combined presentation of ADHD.” This form of ADHD is the most common among children.

Many parents may feel their child is hyperactive. While it is common for children to have some of these symptoms at some of the time, the difference between normal childhood behavior and a disorder is the severity and the degree to which the child shows symptoms. For example, some children by nature are more active and curious. So, they will run around more, interrupt, and display impulsive behavior at times.

How does a parent know if what their child is displaying is just childishness or something more? A child with ADHD will show these symptoms on a regular basis (daily), the symptoms are extreme, and the places and times are inappropriate.

Children with ADD

While the hyperactive form of ADHD is more readily recognized, children with the ADD form of ADHD can sometimes be difficult to spot. Because they are quieter and do not disrupt the classroom with hyperactive behavior, they may go unnoticed for longer. ADD usually surfaces when their schoolwork suffers substantially. Their inability to concentrate causes them to miss important information.

Sometimes children with ADD may appear to be ignoring the directions or simply daydreaming. This can lead to frustration on the part of the teachers and parents. The most important thing you can do if you suspect your child may be suffering from any form of ADHD is to speak to your physician.

Diagnosing this condition early helps children get the support they need.

Last Reviewed:
August 27, 2017
Last Updated:
October 10, 2017