crumbled paper head with puzzle piece in middle

ADD vs. ADHD: What’s the Difference?

Despite being very common, there is a lot of confusion concerning the medical terminology of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some people say ADD (attention deficit disorder) when they mean ADHD, and others say ADHD when they’re describing a type of ADHD that used to be called ADD. It can all get very confusing in a hurry. To provide you with a clean and concise overview, this post will break down the differences and define all of the up-to-date terminology.

ADD is a Dated Term

The best way to start this post is to call attention to the fact that ADD is no longer a term used medically. In fact, the APA (American Psychological Association) stopped using the term way back in 1987. Ever since ADHD was first observed and studied in 1902, the terminology has been in flux. It was first described as an “abnormal defect of moral control in children”.  Later, ADHD was termed as a hyperkinetic impulse disorder. Then, in 1980, the APA classified it as ADD, with ADHD and ADD serving as the two subtypes. While the APA stopped using the term ADD in 1987 choosing to switch to ADHD, the term is still commonly used colloquially. Today, when the term ADD is used, it is referring to a subtype of ADHD called inattentive attention deficit hyperactive disorder.

What is the Diagnostic Difference Between ADHD and ADD?

In short, the symptom of hyperactivity. The subtype of ADHD that used to be called ADHD is now called inattentive ADHD. The three subtypes of ADHD are as follows:

Inattentive ADHD

Formerly referred to as ADD, inattentive ADHD is diagnosed in subjects that display symptoms of inattention, but do no possess symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity.  

Hyperactive/Impulsive ADHD

This subset of ADHD is diagnosed when a subject displays symptoms of impulsivity and/or hyperactivity, but does not display the symptoms of inattention.


When a subject displays symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, they’re are diagnosed with combined ADHD. This is the most common subset of ADHD.

Symptoms of ADHD

Each type of ADHD have their own defining symptoms, including:


    • Prone to making careless mistakes and failing to pay attention to details.
    • Experiences trouble maintaining attention when performing tasks.
    • Struggling to listen when addressed directly.
    • Often gets sidetracked and fails to complete assignments such as schoolwork, workplace duties, chores, and rarely follows through with instructions.
    • Inability to organize activities and tasks.
    • Becomes easily distracted.
  • Forgetful.


    • Fidgeting.
    • Squirming.
    • Difficulty to remaining seated when expected.
    • Restlessness or running and climbing at inappropriate times or places.
    • Inability to play quietly or take part in leisurely activities.
    • Constantly in motion.
    • Excessive talking, even when inappropriate.
    • Interrupts questions and blurts out answers.
  • Becomes impatient and agitated when expected to wait their turn.

Treatment of ADHD

After an extensive and comprehensive testing process, a mental health professional will conclude whether a patient has ADHD, and diagnose the specific subtype of ADHD. The diagnosis will inform how the patient’s disorder is treated.   While individual treatment plans will vary based on the patient and the specific symptoms that are present, ADHD is typically treated through medication, therapy, or a combination of the two. Each form of treatment can be used for any of the three subsets of ADHD. Although there are many different types of medication used for treating ADHD, the most commonly prescribed medications are considered stimulation drugs that include; Dexedrine, Ritalin, Adderall, Adderall XR, Focalin XR, Vyvanse, and Concerta.

ADHD Testing at Family Psychiatry and Therapy

If your child is displaying symptoms that are consistent with ADHD, contact us today to schedule an appointment to have them tested. At Family Psychiatry and Therapy, our team of professionals possess over 20 years of brain-training experience that, in combination with our state-of-the-art technology, makes us the go-to mental health professionals for ADHD testing and treatment. ADHD is a complex disorder that warrants thorough and comprehensive testing and evaluation. While ADHD can be a lifelong battle, diagnosing ADHD early in childhood gives the child a jumpstart on learning to cope and manage their symptoms, and in some cases treat their symptoms completely.

Share this post

headshot of dr.miller

Helene A. Miller / And Other Providers
Family Psychiatry and Therapy brings compassion, understanding, and skilled care to patients throughout New Jersey. Our team of mental health professionals focuses on providing a positive and uplifting experience that aids our patients in facing life’s toughest challenges.