Whether you've just been diagnosed, your child was just diagnosed, or you've lived with the diagnosis your whole life, you've probably wondered, "What does ADD stand for?" Or, "What is the difference between ADD and ADHD?"
What Does ADD Stand For?
In short, ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder. Basically, a disorder in which the patient is unable to focus their attention appropriately.
But while attention deficiency might be one of the most obvious symptoms of ADD, and the most famous, it is certainly not the only one. And, in recent years, the medical community has actually stepped away from using ADD as the term of choice. Instead, doctors and psychologists now prefer ADHD-PI.
ADD vs. ADHD: Is There Really a Difference?
While many people wonder what does ADD stand for, this question is growing increasingly irrelevant.
In the past, most people defined the difference between ADD and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) by the level of impulsivity and high energy displayed by the second diagnosis. With time, though, doctors have chosen to define ADD as a type of ADHD. That type is ADHD-PI (or, ADHD-Predominantly Inattentive).
There are currently three types of ADHD recognized by the medical community: predominantly inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and combination.
Why is the move from ADD to ADHD-PI so important? Because it allows medical professionals to treat the disorder as a single issue when performing research, diagnoses, and more.
While our understanding of ADHD and its causes are fairly rudimentary, we do know a bit about why patients experience symptoms. In ADHD brains, the frontal lobe (responsible for decision-making, focusing, and other classic ADHD concerns) produces less dopamine than a healthy brain.
Rather than divide these symptoms into two separate disorders, ADD and ADHD, it makes more sense to combine them under the ADHD label. Because, at its core, ADD is a variation of ADHD.
Symptoms of ADD
One of the issues with looking at what does ADD stand for is that it only draws attention to one symptom: attention deficiency. But, as with any mental disorder, there are several known symptoms associated with ADHD.
While ADHD is now broken into three distinct subtypes, it's important to note that most patients will experience most or all symptoms. These subtypes are more so defined by the degree to which a patient experiences various symptoms -- not the presence of these symptoms in the first place.
For instance: Someone diagnosed with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD may experience more symptoms around decision-making, planning ahead, and focusing on a single task at once.
On the other hand, someone diagnosed with predominantly inattentive ADHD may experience forgetfulness, lack of energy, and mental spaciness during tasks or social interaction.
The medical community is still learning more about ADHD and its symptoms each and every day. However, here are the most common symptoms experienced by ADHD patients:
When it comes to the day-to-day symptoms of ADHD, many patients report forgetfulness.
We don't truly understand why forgetfulness is such a common symptom of ADHD. But most experts believe it's a result of the brain not truly focusing on something in the moment (where we placed our phone, whether we turned off the oven, or whether we drove to the store or walked) and therefore not "storing it away" for later recall.
As far as ADHD-related forgetfulness goes, this symptom isn't black and white. Many ADHD patients will actually excel at certain memory tasks like trivia, tests, games, and anything where their brain is engaged and focused.
Instead, forgetfulness symptoms normally rear their head when the ADHD patient is distracted by something or unable to focus on the task at hand.
While medical treatment can help ease some of these symptoms, it's also crucial for ADHD patients to acknowledge their forgetfulness and work to develop self-help systems in their daily lives.
Written lists, smartphone reminders, routines, and other methods have all proven useful to ADHD patients. If you or a loved one are struggling with forgetfulness related to ADHD, trying one of these symptoms could be extremely helpful.
As the symptom that ADD was named after, inattentiveness often gets the most attention in both the media and medical community. But this symptom often doesn't present in the way most people believe it does.
Yes, some ADHD patients may struggle to focus in class or when taking a test. After all, the general discussion of ADHD occurs in the context of school-aged children.
But these symptoms can also extend into home life or the workplace, even when someone truly loves and enjoys what they're doing. For example, someone could be an avid reader. Yet their ADHD symptoms could prevent them from reading their favorite books because they are unable to focus on the page in front of them.
Plus, ADHD inattentiveness can also affect someone's social life. While common knowledge of ADHD largely ignores this side effect, it can actually have the most negative impact on a patient's life.
Many children with undiagnosed ADHD are labeled as the "weird" or "shy" kid. And as adults, they might continue to struggle to make friends and hold conversations.
That's because inattentiveness can make it extremely difficult to focus on conversations and give the appropriate responses. While many ADHD patients live more introverted lives and are perfectly happy, this can be a source of great distress for more extroverted patients.
In discussing what does ADD stand for, we can't just look at the lack of attention. We also need to discuss hyperfocusing.
There is a popular misconception that people living with ADHD cannot focus at all. For many, if not most, patients, this just isn't true.
Instead, ADHD can also cause something called hyperfocusing. This symptom causes the patient to develop tunnel vision around a specific task or topic and can lead to spending unreasonable amounts of time on this task without eating, sleeping, or taking breaks of any kind.
For those who don't have ADHD, this symptom might seem like a positive one. Unfortunately, hyperfocusing is largely out of the patient's control.
In fact, hyperfocusing can often lead to ignoring more urgent assignments or isolating the patient socially.
Poor executive function
The term executive function refers to our brains' ability to plan ahead, prioritize tasks, remember things, and exhibit self-control.
Examples of real-life poor executive function include:
For ADHD patients struggling with poor executive function, it can often feel like they are fighting against their own brain to function in day-to-day life. To family, friends, and coworkers, poor executive function can look like flakiness, rudeness, or self-sabotage.
Our knowledge of ADHD and its symptoms has increased exponentially in recent years. And with this growth in knowledge, we've also pinpointed other, lesser-known symptoms of the disorder.
One of the most common of these symptoms is rejection-sensitive dysphoria (or RSD). This refers to ADHD patients' tendency to overreact emotionally to criticism or perceived rejection. Often, sufferers will know their emotional response is inappropriate but not be able to control it.
ADHD patients may also experience generalized mood swings. These dramatic changes in emotion can be a result of outside stimuli or seemingly random. At the moment, experts believe these mood swings are closely related to impaired executive function.
"What Does ADD Stand For?" Q&A
Here are some other common questions people ask when wondering what does ADD stand for:
Who should I talk to about my ADD symptoms?
For many ADHD patients, the diagnosis comes during their younger school years. For others, though, the diagnosis might not occur until college or well into adulthood.
While it's possible for any person with ADHD to slip through the metaphorical cracks, these patients are often women, or they exhibit strong ADHD-PI symptoms. Since hyperactivity and impulsivity are easy to identify from the outside, those suffering from this type of ADHD typically receive an early diagnosis.
So, you've come to the realization that ADHD-PI might be the reason for your lack of focus, procrastination, poor decision-making, and other symptoms you've attributed to just being you. Now, who do you talk to about these symptoms?
First, we suggest scheduling an appointment with your general medical provider. If you struggle to convey your symptoms in-person, make a written list backed up by real-world examples if possible. After this appointment, they will likely continue with the diagnosis themselves or refer you to a specialist.
However, if you're currently seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist, we suggest bringing up your symptoms and concerns with them. While they might also refer you to a specialist, they may also have the knowledge and experience to diagnose you themselves.
Who can have ADD or ADHD?
Although the poster child of ADHD is typically a hyperactive, adolescent boy, anyone can suffer from this disorder.
Many patients don't receive a diagnosis until adulthood. Some go their whole lives without knowing their day-to-day struggles are a result of ADHD.
Since ADHD wasn't recognized until 1980, many people believe that the disorder is a new development in the human brain. However, it's much more likely that it has existed for years. The symptoms just weren't recognized until very recently. That means many older people might have the disorder without ever knowing it.
Do people outgrow ADD as they age?
One common misconception about ADHD is that it is a disorder that only affects children and adolescents.
Yes, it's possible for ADHD-like symptoms to dissipate with age. However, this typically means that the symptoms were not ADHD. Instead, they were a result of something else in the child's developing brain.
Since ADHD is largely a result of an imbalance in neurochemicals, it doesn't go away with age. If someone truly has ADHD, they will continue to live with the disorder throughout the entirety of their life.
Taking the First Steps Toward Treatment
If you found yourself asking what does ADD stand for, there's likely a reason for it.
Just because ADHD is a lifelong diagnosis doesn't mean it needs to affect your life permanently. Many patients find success with medication, therapy, and other self-management techniques.
By reaching out to your doctor, you can begin the journey to managing your ADHD symptoms. It doesn't matter if you're a young teenager still in school or a professional with a family and children of your own. It's never too late to start improving your daily life.
Do you or a loved one live with ADD or ADHD-PI? Let us know your experiences in the comments below!