ADHD or ADD: What’s the Difference?

Sep 28, 2023 | Neurodivergence

Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are terms that you’ve probably heard used interchangeably. Historically, ADD was first introduced as a medical term in 1980. However, by 1994, the terminology evolved to ADHD to encompass a wider range of symptoms.

So what exactly changed? Here’s a straightforward breakdown of the difference between ADHD and ADD.

The Evolution of ADD to ADHD

In 1980, the diagnostic manual DSM-III introduced the term “ADD,” or attention deficit disorder. This covered symptoms like inattention, distractibility, and disorganization.

By the release of the DSM-IV in 1994, the terminology expanded to “ADHD,” or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. This encompassed both attention deficit and hyperactive/impulsive symptoms.

The 3 Presentations of ADHD

ADHD now includes 3 main presentations:

  1. ADHD, Inattentive Type (what was formerly known as ADD): characterized by inattention, forgetfulness, and disorganization but less hyperactivity.
  2. ADHD, Hyperactive/Impulsive Type: characterized by higher activity levels and impulsiveness. May have trouble sitting still.
  3. ADHD, Combined Type: displays both inattentive and hyperactive symptoms. This is the most diagnosed version.

Why the Confusion Persists

The term ADD has stuck around in everyday language, mostly due to its history and simpler phrasing. When people say “ADD,” they generally mean the inattentively predominant version of ADHD. But clinically, ADD is outdated terminology.

Importance of Proper Diagnosis

If you think you or someone you know has ADHD, it’s important to seek professional assessment. The right diagnosis leads to the most effective treatment, whether that involves therapy, medication, school accommodations, or lifestyle changes. Understanding the exact symptoms can make a big difference.

The terminology and classification have evolved over the decades, but what matters most is supporting those who live with these symptoms. By knowing the nuance and difference between ADHD and ADD, we can foster clearer communication and empathy.


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