Understanding ADD and ADHD

Blackboard ADHD

What’s the difference between ADD and ADHD?

This is a question that I often get from parents and students, particularly those who have been recently diagnosed.  The simple answer, I tell them, is the “H”. Let’s take a closer look.

ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder

ADD is characterized primarily by the inability to sustain attention. Often times a student with ADD will exhibit satisfactory attention but only in short spurts.  Sitting in class or working on long assignments often prove very difficult for students with ADD.  Signs that a student may have ADD are:

  • trouble taking notes in class
  • inability to pay attention to the teacher
  • difficulty sitting still for extended periods
  • forgetting to write down homework assignments
  • forgetting to turn in homework
  • a messy, disorganized backpack
  • frequently making careless mistakes

ADHD – Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Unlike ADD, which is solely an attentional disorder, ADHD is characterized primarily by the presence of hyperactivity and impulsivity. The important thing to remember is that students diagnosed with ADHD may or may not struggle with attention. Therefore there are two types of diagnoses:

  1. ADHD, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type (minimal attention issues)
  2. ADHD, Combined Type (hyperactivity/impulsivity AND attention issues)

These 2 diagnoses can be confusing since attention issues are not always present.  A student may have attention AND hyperactive tendencies or only hyperactive tendancies.  Warning signs for ADHD can include the above ADD signs plus hyperactive/impulsive actions such as:

  • shouting out in class
  • talking loudly over others
  • difficulty gathering thoughts
  • excessive fidgeting
  • interrupting others inappropriately

What Does a Diagnosis Mean?

As you can see, both ADD and ADHD can be problematic for students, particularly those in classrooms with numerous other students.  It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between the two, so if you or your student exhibits any of these warning signs, further diagnostic testing may be in order.

Once students have received a formal diagnosis, there are several options to help them.  Interventions include:

  • Medication
  • Extra time on exams
  • Reduced-distraction environment for exams
  • Copy of class notes
  • Permission to use a computer to take notes
  • Permission to audio record lectures

These accommodations fall under Section 504 of Rehabilitation Act which promotes equal rights for students with disabilities.  If your student is struggling with any of the above issues, call your pediatrician to discuss testing for ADD or ADHD.