ADD or ADHD: Which is Correct?

ADD or ADHD? Eileen Bailey explains the sometimes subtle differences between the three main types of Attention Deficit Disorder defined by the American Psychiatric Association.

By Eileen Bailey

When you, or your child, were first diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, what name did the doctor give it?  Did they say ADD?  Or maybe ADHD?  Or maybe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?  Maybe your neighbor’s child was diagnosed recently and although they seem very hyperactive, the neighbor simply says, “My son has ADD.” There are many different terms used today to describe the same disorder, the exact meaning of each term seems blurred. 

It is common for people to use the term ADD to describe Attention Deficit Disorder without hyperactivity and ADHD to describe Attention Deficit Disorder with hyperactivity.  This, however, is not always the case.  Many people use these terms interchangeably, adopting the term that is most comfortable and easier for them.  In doing so, they are not necessarily describing the symptoms but providing a generic name for the disorder. 

The American Psychiatric Association lists three main types of Attention Deficit Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV), which is used by physicians in the diagnostic process. 

ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type

This type includes the following symptoms: not paying close attention to detail, makes careless mistakes, difficulty sustaining attention, failure to follow through on instructions, difficulty with organization, reluctance to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort, often loses items, is easily distracted and forgetful. 

ADHD, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type

This type include the following symptoms:  fidgeting, gets up from seat at inappropriate times, talking excessively, restlessness, difficulty being still or sitting quietly, acting as if driven by a motor, interrupting others, difficulty waiting turns and blurting out answers.

ADHD, Combined Type

This type includes symptoms from both of the above groups.

The terms to describe ADHD are generic in nature for the sake of simplicity.  It would seem awkward to explain to your relatives “My son was diagnosed with ADHD, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type.”  It is much easier to state, “My son has ADD.”  The bulkiness of the actual diagnostic terms will help to keep the simpler terms of ADD or ADHD the most commonly used. 

Keep in mind that individuals can have any combination of the above symptoms, as well as have varying degrees of symptoms.  For example, one person could have severe problems with paying attention or completing tasks, but may have a lesser degree of forgetfulness.  Attention Deficit Disorder is, therefore, unique in each individual.  Treatment should also be catered toward the individual, rather than the term used to describe the condition.  Treatment should include a thorough look at the patient’s symptoms and where these symptoms cause the most negative impact in their lives.  Based on this information, behavioral therapies should be tailored to provide strategies to help the individual cope with and overcome symptoms causing the most disruption in their daily lives.  The focus of treatment should always be improving the lives of the patients, rather than treating a disorder. 


Sources:

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Published by The American Psychiatric Association

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