ADD vs. ADHD dictionary

Photo by Romain Vignes on Unsplash

Someone asked an ADHD-related question on Quora today and requested my answer. It’s something that I suspect others are curious about too.

Here is this person’s question and my response

Question –

Why do people act like ADD and ADHD are the same things when they’re not?

Answer – ADD vs. ADHD

I understand where you’re coming from if you’re looking at it from the perspective that ADHD includes hyperactivity ADD doesn’t. Yes, the two are used interchangeably despite differences.

ADD used to refer to someone who had trouble focusing but was not hyperactive. However, ADD no longer exists as a medical term.

Doctors have been using the term ADHD to describe both the hyperactive and inattentive subtypes since 1994. When the American Psychiatric Association released the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) in May 2013, they changed the criteria to diagnose someone with ADHD.

Many parents, teachers, and adults continue to use the term ADD when referring to inattentive symptoms and presentations of attention deficit disorder.

There are several types of ADD and ADHD. Symptoms vary from person to person. The presence of an “H” in the term doesn’t mean that hyperactivity is present in a person any more than it means that this person is disorganized, forgetful or has anger issues (all symptoms but again, not everyone has every characteristic).

While you might self-identify as one or the other, technically speaking, ADD doesn’t exist.

Personally, I sometimes write “AD(H)D” to account for people with any of the symptoms and to be inclusive but I also use “ADHD” to account for the current terminology. I like to be correct.

Here’s how another person answered:

Because they’re misinformed or being lazy with their use of terminology. It doesn’t help that, like Aspergers being absorbed into the ASD diagnosis, ADD has been combined with ADHD to form the diagnosis of either ADHD or the sub-type ADHD-Primarily Inattentive. Whoever made that call may have been educated but apparently was also ignorant of the different experiences of those with ADD & ADHD.

I can’t speak for ASD and Aspergers, but I can say that this is incorrect. Maybe there’s some laziness (or lack of caring about being precise), but the differences are irrelevant considering what I presented in my answer. That said, the writer of that answer identifies as having ADD and ASD, so that’s where she’s coming from. I understand that. We bring our own experiences into our perspectives. I try to answer based on facts and research and sometimes also include my personal story.

The reasons I use the term ADHD on this website and my business cards are twofold:

1. As I mentioned in my answer above, ADHD is currently the correct name for the condition. Technically speaking, ADD doesn’t exist. Using the word that technically does exist helps me look credible.

2. I like to refer to things by their correct name. It annoys me when people mispronounce words because it triggers my sensory perception anxiety. Something about a word sounding wrong. It’s also a little bit anal-retentive, I suppose. Calling things by their correct name makes me feel the same way that using proper grammar makes me feel.

Furthemore, using two terms in the same piece of writing sometimes looks clunky.

Admittedly, I occasionally use both words in blog posts for search optimization purposes (this is, to increase the likelihood of people finding my post). Using both “ADD” and “ADHD” helps others get the information they need, and helps me get discovered. It’s beneficial both ways.

As I said above in my answer, sometimes I do type “AD(H)D”, but that term technically doesn’t exist either.

I’d prefer to be inclusive. I also acknowledge, as I said above, that not everyone with ADHD has “hyperactivity” or other common issues. No two people are the same. I have one friend with ADHD who loves to run and hates yoga. I prefer yoga and brisk walking. Some people I know with ADHD are better at focusing than others. Every person is unique. This is one of the dangers of labelling people, ADHD or not. Neurodivergence or not. We all have different genes and environments and experiences.

Questions like this also make me wonder why people ask questions on Quora rather than hitting Google for answers, but I’m happy to answer and happy to help.* Sometimes I google the answers and present facts based on research, sometimes I look to resources I already have, or do blog posts that I’ve written, and sometimes I use the ol’ knowledge bank in my brain.

*(Partly because a need for validation is one of my things.)