Differentiating ADD and ADHD: Diagnosis, Symptoms and Treatment

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Eileen Bailey breaks down the unique characteristics of ADD and ADHD to help you determine which of the two conditions you or your loved one is coping with.

Over the years, we have seen specials on television, read books and articles, all on Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity. More often than not, this information references a young boy, bouncing off walls and unable to contain his energy. There are, however, three distinct types of ADHD, according to the DSM-IV (Diagnostic Statistical Manual IV): Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type, Predominantly Inattentive Type and Combined Type. ADD, or ADD without hyperactivity is less well known, although no less difficult for those diagnosed with it.

ADD and ADHD share a number of symptoms. Both types of the disorder can create problems with forgetfulness and becoming easily distracted. Both types cause difficulties in school, in completing assignments and in paying attention. Individuals with both types often lose or misplace items and may have problems keeping track of time. Both may create low self-esteem issues.

There are, however, some distinct differences:

With ADHD, parents often seek medical help in early education, although it can be in the toddler years. ADHD is more recognizable once a child begins school, with behaviors such as disrupting the class, difficulty sitting still or getting out of their seat at inappropriate times. ADD is often undetected until later, possibly in middle school or high school. Children with ADD can be labeled as underachievers or severely shy. They can be seen as unmotivated in school. As they get older and must deal with more classes and moving in between classes, organization becomes a must. Children with ADD often have great difficulty with organization. Symptoms such as inattention show up in failing grades or forgetting homework assignments. Parents may be signaled by a continuation of issues that there is a problem.

While hyperactivity is normally constant, inattention is not always consistent. A child with hyperactivity always seems to have endless energy, even in sleep. Hyperactivity can be easy to recognize. Inattention, however, is more difficult to diagnose. A child may be able to pay attention when something holds their interest. They may be able to watch a television show or play video games. They may be able to participate in sports or other activities with high stimulus levels to keep them interested. When faced with activities that do not hold their interest, such as studying, they may not be able to focus and pay attention for an extended period of time. They may become distracted easily or daydream constantly. This inconsistency is very confusing for parents, who may not understand why their children can focus one moment, but are unable to the next.

Social Interactions

For children or adults with ADHD, energy abounds. They can be socially outgoing and consistently attract people to them. But they also may have more difficulty creating emotional bonds. They may have many acquaintances, but few friends. People with ADD, on the other hand, find it easier to develop friendships, but seem to have more of a problem in attracting other people. They, therefore, might also have only a couple friends. Both ADD and ADHD can cause social difficulties because of the inability to follow conversations. They may miss parts of the discussion or forget what has been said.
Energy Levels

For those with ADHD, energy levels are consistently high. They seem to never sit still and can talk non-stop. Other words often used to describe someone with ADHD would include overactive, easily excitable, and hyperactive. People with ADD frequently have low energy levels. They are seen as daydreamers, sluggish or lethargic. They can be considered to be painfully shy.

Treatment for ADHD and ADD is the same. Both react well to traditional medications, Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall and Strattera. All of these medications help to decrease symptoms. In addition, behavior modification programs can be set up to target specific symptoms. These would be beneficial for both ADHD and ADD.


Strock, Margaret (2006). Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Retrieved May 15, 2007, from National Institute of Mental Health Web site: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/adhd.cfm

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.