What’s the Difference Between ADD and ADHD?

By Rayma Griffin

What’s the difference between ADD and ADHD?

Rayma Griffin

Educational Consultant

Attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are both brain-based conditions that affect people’s ability to stay focused on things like schoolwork, social interactions and everyday activities like brushing teeth and getting dressed.

The biggest difference between ADD and ADHD is that kids with ADHD are hyperactive. They have trouble sitting still and might be so restless that teachers quickly notice their rambunctious behavior and suspect there might be attention issues involved. On the other hand, kids with ADD might fly under the radar because they aren’t bursting with energy and disrupting the classroom. Instead, they often appear shy, daydreamy or off in their own world.

Technically, ADD is one of three subtypes of ADHD. The term ADD is still used by many parents and teachers. But since 1994, doctors have been calling it by its formal name: ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type. The other two subtypes are ADHD, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type, and ADHD, Combined Type, which involves both hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive symptoms.

Kids with the inattentive type of ADHD may have trouble finishing tasks or following directions. They tend to be sluggish and slow to respond and process information. It’s often difficult for them to sift through relevant and irrelevant information. They may be easily distracted and appear forgetful or careless.

Symptoms of the inattentive type of ADHD are less noticeable compared to symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. Unfortunately, as a result, many individuals with the predominantly inattentive subtype of ADHD are often overlooked.

Over the years, I’ve heard many parents say they had trouble figuring out whether their child had attention issues or was just being stubborn and tuning out Mom or Dad. It can be very frustrating, for instance, to tell your child to go brush his teeth and put on his pajamas and then, 15 minutes later, find him playing with Star Wars figurines and neither of the things you asked him to do have been done.

It may seem as if kids with ADD aren’t listening to their parents, but the reality is that often these kids may be listening intently to everything. They just can’t filter out nonessential information in order to focus on any one thing. While this is frustrating for parents and teachers, remember that it is equally frustrating for your child and not a willful act on his part.

About the Author

Rayma Griffin

Rayma Griffin

Rayma Griffin, M.Ed., has spent 40 years working with children with learning and attention issues, both in the classroom and as an administrator.

More by this author

Did you find this helpful?

More to Explore

  • Parenting Coach

    Practical ideas for social, emotional and behavioral challenges.

  • Tech Finder

    Find technology to help your child.

    Select platform or device
  • Through Your Child’s Eyes

    Simulations and videos to let you experience your child’s world.

  • Celebrate 1 in 5 Understood

    It’s ADHD, Dyslexia and LD Awareness Month. Learn about our live events, read inspiring stories and more.

  • Books Featuring Characters With Dyslexia or ADHD

    These great reads may resonate with kids with similar issues.

  • Join a Group!

    A safe place for you to connect with other parents like you.

  • All About ADHD Medication Rebound

    Learn about the symptoms you might see when your child’s stimulant medication is wearing off.

  • Video: How to Organize Your Child’s Backpack

    Use color coding and checklists to get your child's backpack organized.