What Is the Difference Between ADHD and ADD?

One Is Simply an Outdated Term

Wooden letter blocks spelling out ADHD
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Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are, strictly speaking, the same condition. From 1980 until 1987, ADD was the term most often used, but now the American Psychiatric Association uses ADHD.

Types of ADHD

In 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) was published and it is the standardized guideline that doctors and clinicians use to assess and diagnose ADHD. The DSM-5 describes three distinct presentations for ADHD. The use of the word "presentation" is important, as it reflects the fact that ADHD is not fixed or stagnant, and that ADHD symptoms differ from person to person.

The term "presentation" also takes into account that symptoms can vary in one person depending on the environment, such as a new setting, or when involved an interesting activity. In addition, as the brain grows and matures, symptoms can change to become less visible and more internal. This means symptoms can change over the course of a person’s life. 

These are the three presentations of ADHD, according to the DSM-5.

ADHD Predominantly Inattentive Presentation

The symptoms for this presentation, which was previously called ADD, are primarily related to inattention. There are no significant hyperactive or impulsive behaviors. People with this presentation may have trouble paying attention, finishing tasks, or following directions. They may be easily distracted, appear forgetful, careless and disorganized, and frequently lose things. Unlike their hyperactive friends, they can seem rather sluggish and slow to respond and process information. They can appear daydreamy, spacey, or behave as though they are in a fog. They may seem shy or withdrawn.

They often have trouble sifting through information and deciding what is important and what is irrelevant. Their symptoms are less obvious and disruptive compared to an individual with hyperactive and impulsive symptoms. This means that the ADHD might be diagnosed later in life. As a result, these people may struggle through school and be labeled lazy or stubborn. This presentation is more common in girls and women, but boys and men can have it too.

ADHD Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation

The symptoms for this presentation are primarily related to hyperactivity and impulsivity. People with this presentation may seem restless, fidgety, overactive, and impulsive. For example, they may “act before thinking” or “speak before thinking” by blurting out and interrupting others. They may play and interact loudly, find it hard to sit still, or even stay seated. They may talk excessively and have trouble waiting their turn.

Children with this presentation of ADHD may seem to be always “on the go,” constantly moving, running, climbing, and so forth. In adulthood, they might enjoy vigorous exercise or extreme sports. In addition, someone with predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation feels the need to rush through tasks in order to get them done as quickly as possible. This often results in mistakes in tasks like homework, exams, and tax returns.

ADHD Predominantly Combined Presentation

As the name suggests, people with this presentation show both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms.

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Article Sources
  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). 2013.