ADHD and ADD: What are they?

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurological/psychological disorder and is one of the most common mental disorders affecting children and adults; with an estimated 8.4% of children and 2.5% of adults having ADHD. It is more common in boys than girls.

ADHD is a condition that includes symptoms such as a short attention span (inattentiveness), constantly fidgeting (hyperactivity) and acting without thinking (impulsiveness). It can be treated with medicines and talking therapies.

Many ADHD symptoms, such as high activity levels, difficulty remaining still for long periods of time and limited attention spans, are common to young children in general. The difference in children with ADHD is that their hyperactivity and inattention are noticeably greater than expected for their age and cause distress and/or problems functioning at home, at school or with friends. Therefore, ADHD is often first identified in school-aged children when it leads to disruption in the classroom or problems with schoolwork. ADHD is diagnosed as one of three types: inattentive type, hyperactive/impulsive type, or combined type. A diagnosis is based on the symptoms that have occurred over the past six months; individuals would need to demonstrate that 6 (or 5 for over 17’s) symptoms occur frequently.

Types of ADHD and their difficulties/symptoms

Inattentive (formally known as ADD)

  • Doesn’t pay close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in school or job tasks.
  • Has problems staying focused on tasks or activities, such as during lectures, conversations or long reading.
  • Does not seem to listen when spoken to (i.e., seems to be elsewhere).
  • Does not follow through on instructions and doesn’t complete schoolwork, chores or job duties (may start tasks but quickly loses focus).
  • Has problems organising tasks and work (for instance, does not manage time well; has messy, disorganised work; misses deadlines).
  • Avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort, such as preparing reports and completing forms.
  • Often loses things needed for tasks or daily life, such as school papers, books, keys, wallet, cell phone and eyeglasses.
  • Is easily distracted.
  • Forgets daily tasks, such as doing chores and running errands. Older teens and adults may forget to return phone calls, pay bills, and keep appointments.


  • Fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat.
  • Not able to stay seated (in classroom, workplace).
  • Runs about or climbs where it is inappropriate.
  • Unable to play or do leisure activities quietly.
  • Always “on the go,” as if driven by a motor.
  • Talks too much.
  • Blurts out an answer before a question has been finished (for instance may finish people’s sentences, can’t wait to speak in conversations).
  • Has difficulty waiting his or her turn, such as while waiting in line.
  • Interrupts or intrudes on others (for instance, cuts into conversations, games, or activities, or starts using other people’s things without permission). Older teens and adults may take over what others are doing.


  • Displays both inattentive and hyperactive symptoms.

There is no lab test to diagnose ADHD. Diagnosis involves gathering information from parents, teachers, and others, filling out checklists and having a medical evaluation (including vision and hearing screening) to rule out other medical problems. The symptoms are not the result of person being defiant or hostile or unable to understand a task or instructions.

Some related disorders/conditions are Autism spectrum disorder, disruptive, impulse control and conduct disorders, social communication disorder and specific learning disorder.

ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is the term commonly used to describe a neurological condition with symptoms of inattention, distractibility, and poor working memory. However, ADD is an outdated term and no longer a medical diagnosis, though it is often still used to refer to a certain subset of symptoms that fall under the umbrella term, ADHD.

Many people use the terms ADD and ADHD interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. ADD is the colloquial term for one particular type of ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type. Clinicians and diagnosticians now call, and diagnose, ADD Predominantly Inattentive Type attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Symptoms in children and adults include, trouble focusing on school work or work tasks, habitually forgetting appointments, easily losing track of time, and struggling with executive functions. Featured symptoms also include poor working memory, inattention, and distractibility. Although some symptoms are somewhat similar, Predominantly Inattentive Type ADHD (formerly ADD) does not present in the same way as the other two types of ADHD, known as Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type ADHD and Combined Type ADHD.

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