Child ADHD versus ADD
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder are both brain-based conditions that affect people’s ability to stay focused on things like schoolwork, social interactions and everyday activities like brushing teeth and getting dressed.
The biggest difference between ADD and ADHD is that kids with ADHD are hyperactive. They have trouble sitting still and might be so restless that teachers quickly notice their rambunctious behavior and suspect there might be attention issues involved. On the other hand, kids with ADD might fly under the radar 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 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.
Symptoms of the inattentive type of ADHD are less noticeable compared to symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. Unfortunately, as a result, many individuals with the predominantly inattentive subtype of ADHD are often overlooked.
Over the years, I’ve heard many parents and 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, find him playing with Star Wars figurines and neither of the things you asked him to do have been done.
It may seem as if kids with ADD aren’t listening to their parents, but the reality is that often these kids may be listening intently to everything. They just can’t filter out nonessential 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.
Forgetfulness; failure to complete tasks, chores or school work; quick temper; rapid mood changes; day dreaming; seeming not to listen; distraction; difficulty sitting still; impulsiveness/acting without thinking of the consequences; changing the subject mid conversation; speaking out of turn; etc. are all possible symptoms of ADHD/ADD.
Why find out if it is ADHD/ADD?
It is very important to find out if your child has ADHD/ADD so that you can be sure that you, your family and your child's teachers are not punishing your child for the way his or her brain is wired by punishing the symptoms of ADHD/ADD which can led to unnecessary low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, frustration, self-harm, drug use and withdrawn behaviors.
Does that mean my child will need medication?
No, not necessarily. Often certain dietary supplements can help if there is a deficit in the diet; there are behavior plans to motivate better behaviors; organizational skills training; time management training; and your child may qualify for an IEP or 504 plan which would put in place certain accommodations at school to assist with your child's academic success. It can make or break a student's academic career when teachers and the administration know what they are dealing with, rather than presuming a student is just not applying himself. Overall, it is helpful to understand your child's wiring and whether or not he or she is intentionally defiant; or whether he or she is genuinely struggling to discriminate relevant information from the distraction of everyday life.
Is it a disorder?
Technically, ADHD is considered a diagnosis in the DSM-V (psychiatric diagnostic manual) and can be treated with psycho-stimulants with certain success. However, this type of brain wiring has served many cultures, careers and people and can definitely be an asset in the right setting. Though, it may make it much more difficult to sit at a desk for 7-11 hours per day; ADHD can certainly be beneficial in certain healthcare careers, military and combat careers, fire fighting, travel/sales position, hunting, agriculture, teaching, and sports, etc. In fact, it is hypothesized that many brilliant people probably had ADHD including Leonardo DaVinci, one of the greatest minds of all time. During the school years, though, it can definitely be of assistance to have a 504 plan or IEP (individualized education plan). We would be happy to assist your child with that process.
Nicole Story, M.Ed, Ed.S, LMFT, LMHC is a psychotherapist with dual licenses in Marriage and Family Therapy (LMFT) and Mental Health Counseling (LMHC).
She has Master's and Post Master's degrees (equivalent to a Doctorate of Psychology) from the University of Florida and has been evaluating, diagnosing and counseling children and their parents for over 15 years in private practice and community settings including: Hope Haven Children and Family Clinic; Child Guidance Center; Meridian Behavioral Healthcare - Gainesville; The Beaches Resource Center; and as the Clinical Director at a 30 bed adolescent inpatient program.
She is an active member of the Florida Association for Infant Mental Health/FAIMH and the American Psychological Association/APA.
She also trains and supervises clinical staff at the Youth Crisis Center; Camelot Community Care; Family Foundations; Breakthroughs; the Naval Hospital; River Region; the VA; and several private practices.