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  • Elenor MacGregor

Cracking the Code: Understanding the Difference Between ADHD and ADD

Updated: May 27

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In today’s fast-paced world, there are so many reasons find it challenging to focus on tasks or remain still for extended periods. From social media to text messages it can be hard to not be distracted.

While occasional distraction or restlessness is normal, not being able to focus on tasks you or your child don't enjoy on a regular basis may indicate Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Although these terms are often used interchangeably, many people ask me to help them understand the difference between ADHD and ADD.

ADHD vs. ADD: A Quick Overview

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and is characterized by a combination of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. ADD, or Attention Deficit Disorder, is an outdated term previously used to describe a type of ADHD that doesn't involve hyperactivity. The current medical terminology has evolved, and ADD is now considered a subtype of ADHD.

To Understand the Difference: Key Symptoms of ADHD

ADHD manifests through three primary types of symptoms: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Here's a closer look at each:

  1. Inattention:

  • Difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play unless the task is enjoyable (think video games).

  • Frequent careless mistakes in schoolwork or other activities.

  • Easily distracted by extraneous stimuli.

  • Often losing things necessary for tasks (e.g., toys, assignments, tools).

  1. Hyperactivity:

  • Fidgeting or tapping hands and feet.

  • Inability to stay seated in situations where it's expected.

  • Excessive running or climbing in inappropriate situations.

  • Talking excessively.

  1. Impulsivity:

  • Blurting out answers before questions are completed.

  • Difficulty waiting for their turn.

  • Interrupting or intruding on others' conversations or games.

Key Symptoms of ADD vs ADHD; How to Understand the Difference

ADD, now recognized as ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Presentation, includes many of the inattentive symptoms listed above but the difference is that it lacks the hyperactivity and impulsivity components. Individuals with this presentation may:

  • Appear daydreamy or lethargic.

  • Have trouble organizing tasks and activities.

  • Avoid or dislike tasks requiring sustained mental effort.

  • Seem forgetful in daily activities.

Diagnosis and Treatment: Understanding the Differences for ADHD vs ADD

Diagnosing ADHD or it's subtype ADHD-inattentive type (previously known as ADD) involves a comprehensive evaluation that includes medical examinations, interviews, and questionnaires to understand symptoms' frequency and impact on daily functioning. Sometimes specific testing called neuropsychology testing is required. This process helps differentiate between ADHD and other conditions with similar symptoms.

Now let's focus on understanding the the difference between the regular medical treatment for ADHD and the functional integrative treatment. It's not that you can't use medications in conjunction with integrative treatments if needed, but it is good to know what the options are:

Conventional Medical Treatment for ADHD typically involves a combination of:

  • Medications: Stimulants or other pharmaceutical medication (e.g., Ritalin, Adderall) are commonly prescribed to help increase focus and control hyperactive and impulsive behavior.

  • Behavioral Therapy: Techniques that help develop organizational skills, improve time management, and address disruptive behaviors.

Functional Integrative Treatment for ADHD typically involves a combination of:

  • Lifestyle Modifications: The correct nutrition is critical as our bodies need certain nutrients to function correctly and make the right types and amounts of brain chemicals that help with focus. For more information about nutrition for ADHD check out From Plate to Mind: Nourishing Gut Health for a Better Brain. Stress management techniques and creating both an environment and schedule that works for you and your child is equally important. Look at not just the physical space when evaluating a school, but also the schedule, the learning/work style and checking for any toxins in the space. In a young child we especially want make sure there are no signs of possible lead poisoning.

Living with ADHD or ADD

Living with ADHD or ADD can be challenging, but many strategies can help manage symptoms effectively:

  • Create Structured Environments: Consistent routines and organized spaces can reduce distractions and improve focus. This often can involve the help of an executive function coach. These coaches, help you or your child develop the necessary organizational skills to manage deadlines, homework and schoolwork.

  • Set Clear Goals: Break tasks into manageable steps and set specific, achievable objectives. Help your child (or yourself) by identifying the end result desired and working backward to make small acheivable steps. For example, if they have a an essay they need to write that is due in two weeks, then the final product is a full essay but the steps might be:

    • Identify Topic

    • Gather research materials

    • Highlight or take notes on relevant points

    • Make outline

    • Write the Thesis

    • Write paragraphs

    • Edit

    • Review

    • Edit again

    • Turn in final product.

See how important it is to make the steps really small?

  • Use Tools and Technology: Calendars, apps, and reminders can aid in keeping track of responsibilities and deadlines. This may be something you and your child want to do together to avoid technology becoming a distraction for your child.

  • Seek Support: Connecting with support groups or functional medicine doctor who specializes in ADHD can provide additional guidance and encouragement.


Now you understanding the difference between ADHD and ADD and you have some great tips for both! While ADHD includes symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity, ADD (now known as ADHD-- Inattentive Type) does not.

Proper diagnosis involves a thorough evaluation, and their are many ways to go about treating ADHD. With the right strategies and support, individuals with ADHD or ADD lead fulfilling, productive lives. In fact a lot of people with ADHD are highly creative and end up as leaders.

Dr. Ellie smiling. She is wearing a black top and is sitting by an arrangement of wheat fronds.

When you're ready here's how Dr. Ellie can help: 

When your child, teen or young adult child is grappling with focus issues, hyperactivity, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, or perfectionism you know they are suffering.  Tummy and headaches, getting sick a lot, trouble in school, and feeling run down take a toll on your child and on you. 

You want to help the ones you love ease their suffering and alleviate their symptoms by 

addressing their underlying medical conditions without going straight to adding pharmaceutical medications that can come with their own set of adverse side effects and complications.

As a holistic pediatrician, I uncover and treat the underlying root causes of symptoms while working to reduce the need for medications so they can get back to being a kid and reclaim their childhood joy. 

With advanced diagnostic testing and a personalized treatment program I take a thoughtful,  thorough, and caring medical approach to address your child’s health.  We will address genetic factors, diet, gut health, lifestyle as I walk hand in hand with you and your child toward sustainable well being, resilience, and joy.

For more information on brain health check out my other posts:

Dr. Ellie smiling. She is wearing a blue floral dress and is in front of golden foliage
Dr. Ellie

Dr. Ellie MacGregor is a holistic integrative and functional medicine pediatrician who specializes in the treatment of celiac disease, food allergies, ADHD, anxiety, depression, gut issues, eczema, and other recurring symptoms using a blend the best of conventional and alternative therapies to prioritize your child's health..  She is the owner of Middle Path Integrative Pediatrics with over 14 years of experience.  Dr. Ellie MacGregor helps readers separate fact from spin to make informed decisions about their health and the health of their children.

Get Dr. Ellie’s Guide to Whole Child Health for more information or view her website to get in touch. 


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