It’s a typical story we often hear: a child might not be performing well at school, may show distracted behavior, and may act like anything the teacher has to say is useless. It’s dismissed chiefly as childish conduct, but occasionally, an inquisitive teacher might recommend the child be evaluated for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
Although well-intentioned, this recommendation has one flaw: ADD hasn’t been a formal diagnosis in several decades now. It is easy to make the ADD vs. ADHD mistake as a layperson. But with this article, you can learn the difference between ADD and ADHD to make sure you or your loved ones are appropriately diagnosed.
What is ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neuro-development disorder, often diagnosed in children. ADHD is the blanket term now used for all attention deficit disorders. According to the DSM-5 (the fifth revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), ADHD is classified into three types based on the dominant symptoms. The hallmark symptoms of ADHD are listed below:
The child cannot focus their attention on a specific task, is easily distracted, dislikes or avoids activities requiring focus, and may show disinterest while conversing.
The child exhibits high energy, loves activities that involve physical play, unable to stay seated or remain in the same position for some time, talks too much or talks too fast, and blurts out answers before the other person has completed their sentence/question.
The child makes rash decisions, does not think about the consequences of their actions, and often has trouble waiting for their turn (like waiting in queues). Unlike the other two highly manageable symptoms into adulthood, impulsivity often persists throughout the patient’s life and is apparent in their cognitive decision-making process.
The intensity or predominance of these symptoms can vary in different individuals, explaining the different diagnoses despite falling under the umbrella term of ADHD. The three types of ADHD are:
- Predominantly inattentive type/Inattentive ADHD/ADHD without hyperactivity
In this condition, the child will exhibit inattentiveness mainly, but not the other two symptoms. They are not hyper or impulsive.
- Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type
The child will be hyperactive and impulsive but may have a good attention span or not have trouble being attentive.
- Combined type
In this condition, the child will present with all three symptoms.
To be diagnosed with any ADHD type, the child must present with at least 5 of the relevant symptoms (listed above and in DSM-5) under each type for six months. This is because many children present with such behavior at some point in their life, maybe due to trauma or the company they are in, but these behaviors persist in children with ADHD.
As the child grows, they can present with variable symptoms. Consequently, with the fluidity of symptoms, the child can present with different types of ADHD throughout their life.
What is ADD?
A discussion about the difference between ADD and ADHD is a questionable debate. As given above, ADD is considered a subtype of ADHD, i.e., the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD without hyperactivity. Before 1987, ADD and ADHD were considered separate disorders. However, with a revision in the DSM, ADD is now known as ADHD – inattentive type (or any other variation that indicates lack of hyperactivity to a more significant extent). Therefore, it is inappropriate to think in terms of ADHD vs. ADD.
Since patients with inattentive ADHD (or ADD) do not call attention to themselves through their behavior, they can often go undiagnosed and be dismissed as children who are careless or indifferent. Even worse, they can be misdiagnosed as having a mood disorder or anxiety. It is imperative to understand that hyperactive or impulsive children who blurt out answers and run around the class aren’t the only ones that may need clinical help.
Undiagnosed ADHD-without-hyperactivity can result in severe stunting in academic growth and emotional trauma, as the child’s inattentive brain disorder is chalked up to irresponsible behavior and carelessness.
Can gender affect ADHD diagnosis?
The social construction and performance of gender stereotypes and the different presentation of ADHD symptoms in girls and boys have significantly led to an underdiagnosis of ADHD in girls. Boys often show hyperactive and impulsive behavior and present with the combined type of ADHD.
On the other hand, girls replicate behaviors of their peers and can adapt better in school, internalize their symptoms, do not exhibit hyperactivity, and at most, be very chatty. These subtle symptoms are often harder to identify. Unfortunately, girls presenting with this type of ADHD may be boxed under the stereotypical picture of girls generally being talkative. This is why boys are diagnosed up to 3 times more than girls.
Under this internalized form of ADHD, girls may often be caught staring off into space – daydreaming. Daydreaming ADHD is more common in girls than boys and falls under inattentive ADHD.
If you have a daughter, you could look out for these signs of inattentive ADHD:
- You often find her daydreaming with hyperfocus, to the extent that she might not hear you when you call her name the first time
- She has trouble focusing on academic work or household chores
- She usually stays up late to complete homework at the last minute because she was too distracted before
- She feels anxious and burdened by her inability to focus
Your child may have ADHD, hyperfunctioning, and have a mature expression of thought and cognitive ability. This may lead you into believing that your child is brilliant compared to their peers and is emotionally mature as well.
As a parent, teacher, or caregiver, it is vital to understand the ADHD mental age chart. Children with ADHD may be more articulate in expression, process ideas faster than their peers, and pick up new concepts quickly. However, studies have shown these children to be at least three years behind their peers in emotional maturity and executive functioning.
Executive functioning encompasses impulse control, emotional control, planning and prioritizing tasks, and completing them on time. This makes sense, considering the disordered neural state of hyperactive/impulsive or inattentive children.
If your child or peer has been diagnosed with ADHD, especially if they’re young, visualize the ADHD mental age chart when dealing with them.
Keep track of your child’s ‘ADD’itiude
Now that you know the difference between ADD and ADHD, you know what to look for in your child. If you think your child has inattentive ADHD (or ADD, informally), you can go through the DSM-5 or get help from an acquaintance caring for someone with ADHD.
Suppose you consistently identify a set of symptoms in your child for over half a year. In that case, it is better to refer to a trained professional to evaluate your child and get a proper diagnosis. It is advised not to feel alarmed or attacked if your child is diagnosed with it – around 8.4% of children in America have the disorder and are diagnosed during school years.
See Also: Adult ADHD and Parenting
Diagnosis during the early years helps manage the child’s symptoms better and enables them to be their best selves. You should not fear for your child’s prospects either; some very notable people like Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, Abraham Lincoln, widely successful American President, and current world-famous swimmer Michael Phelps have been ADHD minds! Not only is it just possible for your child to live with ADHD, but it is also possible for them to thrive with it.