ADD vs. ADHD: Key Characteristics and How to Differentiate

Julia Ovcharenko, CEO of Numo
November 8, 2023

Have you ever struggled with maintaining focus and battling a short attention span? If so, you may know all about the rollercoaster of living with ADHD.

But let's pause here: Are we talking about ADHD or ADD, you may ask?

Confusion often arises when individuals use these terms interchangeably.

Let's learn more about ADHD and its quirks and discover what makes ADHD different from ADD.

[ADHD and ADD Terminology]The Rise and Fall of ADD: A Brief History of ADHD Terminology

Once upon a time, in the land of psychiatry, experts invented a term known as ADD, representing Attention Deficit Disorder. It became the go-to label for individuals struggling with attention and focus.1

In the late '70s, ADD strode onto the scene, capturing the attention of experts and the public alike. But just like fashion trends and outdated slang, ADD fell out of favor among experts in the field. 

How come?

Over time, we gained a better understanding of attention-related disorders. Experts discovered that ADD was only one piece of a broader spectrum of conditions. They recognized that ADHD covered attention issues but also:

  • hyperactivity and
  • impulsivity.

So, the wise owls of the psychiatric world decided to rebrand the condition as ADHD. That term incorporates the three core components: inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Fast forward, ADD became the outdated, neglected cousin. It was left to gather dust in the attic of diagnostic terminology. This change shows that attention difficulties often come with hyperactivity and impulsivity.2

But, even though ADD may be a relic of the past, it still has its loyal followers who cling to its familiarity. Like a child clings to their favorite security blanket.

But why is that? 🤔 We'll explore this phenomenon in greater detail later on.

Why ADD Became a Thing of the Past

Mental health jargon has its fashion trends, and ADD is 100% the past season! Experts have abandoned the term ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) for several reasons::

  • ADD was like playing a game of telephone (it started with good intentions but got twisted and misunderstood along the way)
  • It was like trying to define ADHD with a single emoji (too limited to express the full range of quirks and strengths)
  • It was a one-sided conversation (only focusing on inattention and leaving hyperactivity feeling left out and misunderstood)

Why "ADD" Refuses to Go Away

Despite the evolution of the term ADHD, it seems like ADD just won't quit. So why do some people persist in using this outdated moniker? 

Let's uncover a few reasons behind this:

  • The Nostalgia Factor (some individuals find comfort in holding on to the term that defined their childhood struggle)
  • The Attention-Grabber (rolls off the tongue with a snappy rhythm)
  • Mythical Misconceptions (people mistakenly believe that ADD only refers to the inattentive type. While ADHD includes the hyperactive component.)

Not content with ADD or ADHD?

Experts have tossed around alternative names for the condition. Some proposed gems include:

  • ARD (Attention Regulation Disorder)
  • EFD (Executive Function Deficit) 

Dr. Edward (Ned) Hallowell suggests changing it to VAST (variable attention stimulus trait).

“I’d like ADHD to be viewed as a way of being in the world which, with the right support, can be a wonderful way of being. Instead, ADHD is looked at through the lens of pathology and negativity. I’m on a mission to change that, and a new name would help to accomplish that goal.”13

So, as the battle of ADD vs. ADHD wages on, let's remember that while the official term may have changed, the challenges and triumphs of those with attention difficulties remain the same.14 

[ADHD types]The Wild Trio of ADHD types

Professionals now recognize three types of ADHD. Like the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter, ADHD has three distinct "houses." 

  1. Inattentive house (where the forgetfulness and daydreaming wizards live)
  2. Hyperactive house (home to those energetic, always-on-the-go witches and wizards)
  3. Combined house (a delightful blend of both inattentive and hyperactive traits)4

But here's the twist: the sorting hat approach is changing. Experts now realize it's not just about the types but the prominent symptoms within each individual. 

It's like the sorting hat saying, "Forget about those predefined houses. Let's dig deeper and understand the unique magic you bring!”3

[ADHD symptoms]Symptoms by APA's Classification

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) classification system gives us a structured framework to understand the symptoms of ADHD better. Here's a glimpse into their ADHD symptom handbook:

🎯 Inattention Zone:

  • Difficulty paying attention to detail (tiny details play hide-and-seek, and finding them is like searching for a needle in a haystack)
  • Difficulty maintaining attention (attention span rivals that of a goldfish juggling flaming torches)
  • Difficulty listening (conversations transform into a whimsical game of "guess the missing words.")
  • Challenges with finishing tasks (unfinished tasks multiply like bunnies in a magician's hat)
  • Organization and time management difficulties (calendars and to-do lists got lost somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle)
  • Avoiding tasks involving attention (they are as appealing as a dentist appointment during a candy convention)
  • Misplacing or losing objects (socks go missing, keys teleport, and pens join the witness protection program)
  • Distraction challenges (distractions are like magnets, pulling their focus in all directions)
  • Forgetfulness (more like a magician's trick of making memories disappear)

🔥 Hyperactivity Haven:

  • Fidgeting or squirming (their signature dance, making chairs their dance partners)
  • Restlessness, running, or climbing when inappropriate (inappropriately active is their middle name)
  • Difficulty remaining quiet (whispering feels as impossible as sneezing with their eyes open)
  • Excessive talking (words pour out like an unstoppable waterfall)

💡 Impulsivity Island:

  • Making “hot decisions” (a delicate dance between spontaneity and analysis paralysis)
  • Speaking before listening (it is like a race between thoughts and ears, and thoughts win every time)
  • Challenges with waiting (the ultimate test of patience)
  • Frequently interrupting or intruding (waiting for their turn feels like watching paint dry in a time warp)
  • The ultimate risk-taker. (danger might be their middle name)5

[Signs of ADD and ADHD]Signs of ADD and ADHD

Let’s say we have two friends chatting away. 🗣️ One with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD and the other with inattentive ADHD. Depending on the type, the experiences can be quite different. 

Friend A, the hyperactive one, is like a race car with thoughts racing in all directions and barely pausing for breath.

They might:

  • interrupt conversations 
  • jump from one activity to another
  • leave everyone's head to spin

On the other hand, Friend B, the inattentive type, is more like a daydreamer.

They tend to:

  • get lost in their thoughts
  • drift off during a conversation
  • forget where they put their belongings

These differences may seem like comedy gold, but they also shape how they handle daily challenges. 

Friend A might jump into projects without planning. Friend B may struggle to stay focused and organized, often getting sidetracked.

Regardless of the type, we all have incredible strengths

Signs of ADD and ADHD in Women

When it comes to ADHD, the ladies are no exception! It's not like this condition has a gender preference or secretly whispers "boys only." But here's the catch: it often goes undiagnosed in girls. 


Girls often have the inattentive type of ADHD (some individuals call it ADD)6. The inattentive type can go under the radar, leaving many women struggling in silence. 

In women, the prevalence of inattentive type ADHD is surprisingly high. Yet, it often goes incognito as daydreaming or absentmindedness.

Girls with this type of ADHD may not show hyperactive behaviors. That can make it much harder to detect their symptoms. As a result, their ADHD tendencies can go unnoticed by the ADHD radar.

But, the inattentive type is not exclusive to girls. Boys can also have this subtype. But experts may ignore the symptoms or misdiagnose them because of gender stereotypes.

[fs-toc-omit]Is It ADHD or Something Else?

For giving an official diagnosis, medical professionals use specific criteria. Even Sherlock Holmes would be proud. The standards include things like:

  • difficulty paying attention
  • being as fidgety as a squirrel on caffeine
  • having a knack for losing keys in the most unimaginable places

But hold on! Doctors also consider how these symptoms impact your daily life. After all, we're not here to diagnose you with Lostkeysitus. We want to figure out if it's ADHD or something else entirely.

If you:

  • can’t stay focused,
  • blurt out random thoughts too quickly, or 
  • misplace your belongings constantly,

It may be time to seek professional help. 

Remember, seeking help isn't a sign of weakness but a strength!

[Treatment]Finding Relief: Exploring Treatment Options

Adulting with ADHD can be pretty challenging. Finding the proper treatment can feel like searching for a unicorn in a haystack. 

From medications to therapy and lifestyle changes, the path to relief is full of possibilities. Like a personalized playlist, the key is finding the right combination that hits all the right notes.

  • Therapy (it's not only about lying on a couch and sharing your deepest secrets (unless you want to!))9
  • Skills training and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)10
  • Medications (stimulants are the superheroes here 🦸, but non-stimulants also have their charms😉)11, 12

Your journey to finding relief involves a mix-and-match of treatments suited to your unique needs.7, 8

Wrapping Up

Throughout this wild ADHD adventure, we've uncovered some key nuggets of wisdom. So, before we bounce off 🤸, let's recap:

  • ADD, and ADHD are two sides of the same coin 🎭.
  • The term ADD has retired like a 90s fashion trend (but some individuals still wear it).
  • ADHD comes in different flavors: inattentive, hyperactive, or combined.
  • Experts now focus on individual symptoms rather than rigid classifications.
  • Women often have the inattentive type of ADHD.
  • ADHD isn't just a childhood condition; it can persist into adulthood.
  • Treatments like medication, therapy, and lifestyle adjustments can be a lifesaver in adulting with ADHD.


Q: Is there any difference between ADHD and ADD?

A: The only difference is their names! ADHD is the superstar that covers attention deficit and hyperactivity. ADD is its old-school sibling, only focusing on attention deficit. 

Nowadays, we're all on the ADHD spectrum. That means we experience the thrilling medley of inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. So let's ditch the ADD vs. ADHD debate and embrace the vibrant, multi-symptom dance of ADHD!

Q: ADHD vs. ADD symptoms: Are there differences in severity?

A: You may have heard whispers that ADD (the inattentive type of ADHD, mind you) is somehow "less severe" than ADHD. All three ADHD types are equally valid and not inherently more or less extreme than the others. 

Q: Are ADD and ADHD the same thing?

Yes, ADD and ADHD are 100% the same thing. ADD was the term experts used before realizing that hyperactivity is part of the package.

Some folks still use ADD for the inattentive type of ADHD. But the diagnosis is the same whether you're bouncing off the walls or struggling with attention. So, hyperactive or not, we're all in this ADHD boat together!

Science sources:
1. WebMD: ADD vs. ADHD
2. National Library of Medicine: The History of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder 
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Symptoms and Diagnosis of ADHD 
4. National Library of Medicine: Changes in the Definition of ADHD in DSM-5: Subtle but Important 
5. National Library of Medicine: DSM-IV to DSM-5 Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Comparison 
6. Hopkins Medicine: Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Children 
7. American Psychiatric Association: What is ADHD?
8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Treatment of ADHD
9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Therapy to Improve Children’s Mental Health 
10. Children and Adults with Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Cognitive behavioral therapy.
11. Children and Adults with Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Which meds? New research points to a difference in stimulants for adults, children.
12. American Academy of Pediatrics. Non-stimulant medications available for ADHD treatment.
13. Dr. Edward Hallowell discusses his new book ADHD 2.0 and VAST
14. National Library of Medicine: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder  

Hack your ADHD, with the #1 ADHD App
Get Numo
Numo #1 ADHD App
Hack & embrace your ADHD