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) both 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.

Read how one mom got her child to listen without yelling. You can also:

About the Author

Portrait of Rayma Griffin

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

Did you find this helpful?

2.1kFound this helpful
2.1kFound this helpful

Have your own question?

Get and give answers in the Understood Community. It’s a safe place to connect with parents and experts. Get started in our groups.

What’s New on Understood