Everyone remembers their childhood. It was the time to be carefree, full of energy, and curious about pretty much anything and everything. With the increasing amount of awareness parents are having about attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), more and more children are being diagnosed with these conditions. In fact, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 10% of all children ages 4 to 17 in the U.S. have ADD or ADHD, which is an increase over the last few years. This staggering fact arises a few questions to concerned parents and their children. Are children being misdiagnosed with these conditions to make an excuse for their high energy and lack of focus? And if they really do have one of these conditions, what’s the difference between ADD and ADHD?
What is ADD and ADHD?
To address both of these questions, let’s define what ADHD is first. ADHD is a complex neurological disorder in which the chemical messengers in the brain, called neurotransmitters, do not work properly. Researchers and scientists believe that these neurotransmitters, along with dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine are all deficient. There are no symptoms of brain damage however for anyone diagnosed with ADHD.
There are three different types of ADHD. There’s the inattentive type, the hyperactive-impulsive type, and combined type. Let’s break down each one and see what their differences are.
- ADHD Inattentive Type (or ADD) – A person with this type of ADHD has a problem paying attention, but does not display hyperactive or impulsive behavior. Does this sound like another disorder you’ve heard of before? If you were thinking of ADD, you are correct! Surprisingly, you cannot find the term ADD if you were to look it up in the medical dictionary. It’s an older term that was commonly used by people. However, we still ADD a lot today to describe someone who has this type of ADHD, and we will continue to use that term for the purpose of this article.
- ADHD Hyperactive-Impulsive Type – Someone who is diagnosed with this type of ADHD appears to be restless, overactive and impulsive. He or she will have trouble sitting and staying in their seat. These individuals usually do not show significant attention problems though.
- ADHD Combined Type – When a person shows signs and symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity and impulsivity.
Symptoms of ADD
One of the main symptoms of ADD is not being able to consistently pay attention to someone or something. If you’ve been talking to someone and they won’t appear to be listening, you might not think much of it if it only happens once or twice. But if it happens all the time, that person may have ADD. The key to diagnosing it is noticing how often this problem happens, and paying attention to other signs such as disorganization and forgetfulness. Other symptoms include not following directions, making careless mistakes and avoiding tasks that require long periods of mental effort. All of us are guilty of forgetting to do things and focusing on details from time to time, but this is also what matters when diagnosing ADD. The symptoms of ADD are less obvious than ADHD because there is usually not a flurry of constant physical activity to alert you of the problem, which is why ADD often goes undiagnosed for a lot of people.
Symptoms of ADHD
The more popular of the two, it is easy to diagnose someone quickly with ADHD simply because of the amount of activity associated with this disorder. Someone with ADHD cannot sit still and is easily distracted. They are also always busy with something and often hyperactive. When talking to someone with ADHD, you might notice they are not paying attention and instead either moving around or doing something else. It could be that they are just distracted for the time being, but if it happens often enough, that person might have ADHD. Other symptom is acting on impulse instead of thinking before they speak. ADHD is common for children and adults who have extremely high energy levels. It is usually diagnosed among children because they have not yet learned how to control their energy levels and impulses. To get an idea of what someone with ADHD experiences, think of a time when you were late for work and rushing to get ready. Your mind is constantly thinking about one thing to the next before you even have a chance to finish your first thought, while trying to get changed and get ready at the same time. Other symptoms may include speaking loudly at times, excessively talking, and interrupting others before they finish speaking. This is what an ADHD patient goes through all the time.
Diagnosing ADD and ADHD
ADHD is the easier of the two to diagnose mainly because the symptoms are easier to notice and examine. It is important to note that having ADD does not mean that you are hyperactive. Certain studies have shown that more males than females are diagnosed with ADHD. On the other hand, more females are diagnosed with ADD than males.
To be diagnosed with either condition, you or your child must show a combination of strong symptoms, mainly hyperactivity, inattention or impulsivity. The types of questions you will be asked when visiting a mental health professional are:
When did the symptoms begin? – Since ADD and ADHD begin at childhood, your doctor or therapist will want to know how early your symptoms appeared. If you are an adult, you will probably be asked to trace your symptoms back to when you were a child.
How severe are the symptoms? – If the symptoms are not that serious, chances are you or your child will not be diagnosed with either condition. People who truly have either ADD or ADHD have their whole lives impacted in a negative way by the condition. It can affect their jobs, family, relationships, finances or any other aspect of life.
Where do your symptoms appear? – Only having trouble concentrating in one place, such as school, and not at home or anywhere else means you probably don’t have ADD or ADHD. Your symptoms must be present in multiple settings in order to be diagnosed.
How long have these symptoms occurred? – Your symptoms must consistently present for at least six months before you can be diagnosed with either condition.
Severity and Treatment
The symptoms for someone with ADD or ADHD can range from mild to severe, depending on the person’s neurobiology and environment. Some experience mild hyperactivity when performing a task they do not enjoy, but then have the ability to focus well when it’s something they want to do. Others can experience severe symptoms, which can have a negative impact on their lives. The duration of the condition can also range depending on the person. Some feel that their symptoms diminish as they get older, but others have reported the opposite.
Parents have a huge influence over their child’s treatment. Some evidence has shown that eating a healthy diet, getting lots of exercise, and making good choices can help your child manage their symptoms. Physical activity helps boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin levels, which all play a key role in focus and attention. It is also beneficial to encourage your child to take part in activities that involve body movements like dancing, gymnastics, basketball, or any other active sport. Team sports are even more ideal since it engages them with socializing with other children.