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What’s the Difference Between ADD and ADHD?

ADD and ADHD | What’s the Difference?Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are both brain-based conditions that affect people’s ability to stay focused on things like schoolwork, social interactions and everyday activities such as brushing teeth and getting dressed. The biggest difference is that kids with ADHD are hyperactive—they can’t sit still and are so restless that teachers quickly notice their rambunctious behavior and begin to suspect there might be attention issues involved. Kids with ADD might fly under the radar a bit longer 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 considered 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. Their symptoms are less overt compared to an individual with hyperactive and impulsive symptoms. Unfortunately, as a result, many individuals with the predominantly inattentive subtype of ADHD are often overlooked.


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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, you find him playing with Star Wars figurines and neither of the things you asked him to do have been done. It may seem like kids with ADD aren’t listening to their parents, but the reality is that often these kids may be listening intently to everything and can’t filter out non-essential 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.

Rayma Griffin served as director of admissions and placement for more than 30 years at the Eagle Hill School, in Greenwich, CT, which specializes in teaching children with learning and attention issues.

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