Understanding ADD vs ADHD

In the past, ADD and ADHD were generally considered to be two distinct albeit similar disorders. ADD was generalized as relating to attention, while ADHD was seen as relating more to hyperactivity. Today, professionals consider what used to be called ADD as a subtype of ADHD. There are now three subtypes of ADHD:

  • Primarily Inattentive
  • Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive
  • Combination

What was once called “ADD” is now typically diagnosed as primarily inattentive ADHD. Hyperactivity and impulsivity are not present in patients with this type of ADHD.

Defining ADHD

ADHD is a mental health disorder that can present in adults and children alike. ADHD often manifests for the first time in childhood, but it can continue into adulthood. In some patients, even, symptoms may not even appear until later in life.

ADHD affects around11 percent of children and 4.4 percent of adults in the U.S. While ADHD generally affects things such as one’s ability to concentrate, one’s memory, and one’s executive function, it manifests differently from one person to the next.

It is of great concern to many parents that ADHD affects so many children these days. While research is still pending, many mental health professionals believe there may be environmental triggers involved. Most research suggests that an increase in understanding of the disease, however, has been the primary driver in the uptick in diagnoses.

Concerned parents should understand that avoiding diagnosis does not mean that a child’s symptoms will disappear. A child with ADHD will need intervention no matter what. Working with a therapist to address a child’s ADHD gives the child and parents alike the skills they need to cope well with this disorder.

Adult ADHD – The Signs

As stated above, symptoms can vary from patient to patient. The DSM defines a list of symptoms for each subtype of ADHD, but patients can present with any combination of these symptoms.

Symptoms for Inattentive ADHD can include:

  • Phasing out
  • Finding it hard to pay attention to detail
  • Constantly distracted
  • Brief attention span, even with favorite pastimes
  • Inability to follow instructions with multiple steps
  • Inability to listen attentively
  • Tendency to avoid things that demand attention
  • Forgetting common daily tasks
  • Poor executive function

Symptoms for Hyperactivity-Impulsivity ADHD can include:

  • Inability to delay gratification
  • Constant moving or fidgeting
  • Impulsive decision making
  • Restlessness
  • Constant and rapid talking
  • An inability to rest or relax

Adults with combination ADHD can have symptoms from either list.

As with all mental and behavioral disorders, symptoms typically need to interfere with one’s daily life to meet the criteria for diagnosis. Feeling restless on occasion or sometimes losing track of tasks doesn’t meet the diagnostic criteria of ADHD. Symptoms not only need to need to interfere consistently with daily life, they must also be present for at least six months.

Childhood ADHD – The Symptoms

The symptoms of childhood ADHD are very much like those in adult ADHD. Since children express emotions differently than adults, however, parents need to learn to spot behaviors that may suggest ADHD.

Symptoms of Inattentive ADHD in Children can include:

  • Always making the same homework mistake in a well-known subject
  • Losing things they need each day, such as lunchboxes
  • Moving quickly from one toy or activity to another
  • Avoiding attention-centered activities
  • Zoning out even when talking to parents or teachers

Symptoms of Hyperactivity-Impulsivity ADHD in Children can include:

  • Constantly interrupting the flow of conversation
  • Inappropriate interruptions during class
  • Talking more than and over peers
  • Boundless energy
  • Inability to sit still in school
  • Acting out, especially inappropriately

Can You Test for ADHD?

Only a mental health professional can test for and diagnose ADHD. Patients should not rely on self-testing or online evaluations.

Evaluation of potential ADHD in a patient by a professional can involve interviews done in private sessions. Patients may also be required to fill out basic assessments. Honesty on the part of the patient helps ensure proper diagnosis.

If a child needs a diagnosis, the therapist typically interviews the parents and the child. Mental health professionals may also observe the child patient in a play setting.

Treating ADHD

Currently there is no known cure for ADHD, but there are effective treatments that can ameliorate symptoms and help patients live fuller lives. Interventions can include lifestyle changes, medication, or therapy and are typically tailored to the patient’s needs.


Medications such as stimulants are particularly effective for patients with ADHD. These medications have been shown to help as many as 80 percent or children with the disorder, making them one of the most popular interventions.

Some patients, however, do not do well with stimulants. Fortunately, the mental health community has had alternatives available since 2003. These alternatives might not work as rapidly but can be very effective in the long run.

Parents are often anxious about putting their children on medications. Parents should keep in mind that mental health professionals will not recommend medication unless its benefits outpace any risks involved. Therapy and lifestyle changes may work as alternatives to medications.

Behavioral Therapy for ADHD

Behavioral therapy can help those with ADHD develop coping mechanisms and stop behaviors that interfere with their quality of life. Therapists work with patients and their families to identify triggers in the patient’s environment. As a team, they then develop strategies that help the patient cope with and ameliorate the effects of these triggers. Therapists can also work with parents to ensure they provide consistent support for the patient.

Lifestyle Changes and ADHD

Making lifestyle changes can supplement therapy and medication in treating ADHD. Whether adults or children, patients with ADHD can benefit when they:

  • Exercise on a regular basis
  • Get regular sleep
  • Adhere to regular, daily routines
  • Eliminate distractions in life, school, or work
  • Maintain a healthy diet