ADHD is the most common mental health disorder that’s diagnosed in young children, affecting as many as 11% of children in the US between 4 and 17 years old. That doesn’t mean it’s always well-understood or well-explained, though, and the difference between ADD and ADHD, especially, isn’t always totally clear to people without medical backgrounds.
One of the more confusing points when talking about ADD or ADHD is that ADD used to be a commonly-used diagnostic term, but around 1994, the American Psychological Association, as well as doctors and parents, started to transition into using the formal term ADHD (for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). People still talk about ADD, but as a subset of ADHD. There are three subsets of ADHD, and the one that is most often referred to as ADD is the one that’s characterized by inattention.
The three subtypes of ADHD
There are three subtypes of ADHD, and they’re defined by which of three general categories most of a patient’s symptoms can be connected back to. Most people who are diagnosed with ADHD have symptoms from two, or even all three categories, but others do show symptoms that all or almost all fit into one category.
- Inattention: People with ADHD characterized by inattention, which is sometimes referred to as ADD, often lose focus mid-way through a task or have trouble staying focused, are disorganized and may not have much persistence, though none of these traits are due to not understanding tasks or being unwilling to try them. ADHD focused around inattention is common in girls, and is not always easy to diagnose, since inattention can look like shyness, dreaminess, or boredom. One reason inattention can be harder to diagnose is because you can’t watch the directions a child’s mind is moving in the same way you can watch their tapping fingers or climbing feet.
- Hyperactivity: On the other hand, ADHD including or characterized by hyperactivity can come out in the form of moving around constantly, even in situations where it’s not appropriate; fidgeting; tapping fingers or toes; or talking excessively. Many, or even most symptoms of hyperactivity are fairly normal in toddlers, although toddlers who end up having ADHD may show these symptoms more intensely, or just may not grow out of them as they grow up.
- Impulsivity: ADHD symptoms related to impulsivity are especially difficult to tell apart from normal toddler behavior because toddlers don’t generally have great impulse control, but symptoms of impulsivity include difficulty thinking through the consequences of actions or difficulty with delayed gratification.
Mackenzie Carpenter. “ADD vs. ADHD.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. PG Publishing, April 11 2000. Web.
“Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Data & Statistics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, October 5 2016. Web.
- “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health. National Institutes of Health, March 2016. Web.