Is it ADD or ADHD? What’s the difference?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common childhood developmental condition that affects a person’s ability to regulate attention and executive functioning. People with attention difficulties are sometimes referred to as having attention deficit disorder (ADD), but is this correct? Are ADHD and ADD the same thing? And if not, what is the difference between ADHD and ADD? Below, we dive into these terms to further your knowledge on the topic.
The earliest potential references to ADHD or ADD date back to ancient Greece, where Hippocrates documented several patients throughout his medical career who experienced a rather inexplicable lack of focus. ADHD was again mentioned by John Locke in his essay “Some Thoughts Concerning Education,” which observed a group of students who struggled to “keep their mind from straying.”
In the 1800s, many medical textbooks discussed what, today, are known as ADHD symptoms, under the definitions: “nervous child,” hypermetamorphosis,” “simple hyperexcitability,” and others. In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) formally named it attention deficit disorder, whether the child exhibited hyperactivity or not. It wasn’t until 1987 that the standard name of ADD was changed to ADHD. Then, in 1994, ADHD was finally broken down into the three different types, or presentations, that we have today.
While many people still use the term ADD as a type of ADHD, it is no longer a formal classification in the medical community. The different types of ADHD are officially known as presentations, defined in the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). The term ADD was most commonly used to refer to someone who had trouble focusing but wasn’t hyperactive, which today would be referred to as ADHD-Predominantly Inattentive Type.
In DSM-5, ADHD is separated into three different presentations: ADHD-Predominantly Inattentive Type (ADHD-I), ADHD-Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive Type (ADHD-HI), and ADHD-Combined Type (ADHD-C). Children with inattentive ADHD often appear spacey or uninterested and are very easily distracted. The most noticeable symptom of inattentive ADHD is simply the inability to pay attention. Children with hyperactive/impulsive ADHD often exhibit excessive motoric activity (e.g. moving, fidgeting, overly talkative) and act impulsively (blurt out answers, interrupt, act without thinking). The most typical indicators of hyperactive/impulsive ADHD are constant movement and difficulty controlling impulses. Combined presentation ADHD is a combination of both hyperactive/impulsive and inattentive ADHD, and children with this type will display many, if not all, of these symptoms.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that over six million children have been diagnosed with ADHD, or roughly around nine percent. ADHD is statistically more prevalent among boys (13 percent), although almost six percent of girls also meet criteria for the diagnosis. Furthermore, since girls are more likely to have the “quieter” inattentive type of ADHD, they are more likely to go unnoticed than boys. Approximately 40-50% of children with ADHD also have a specific learning disorder in reading, writing, and/or math. Additionally, about 30 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD also experience anxiety disorders, while many others are affected by coexisting conditions such as depression, autism, or Tourette Syndrome.
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