ADHD Vs ADD, in Children: What Do I Need to Know?


Takeaway: ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) both refer to children who struggle to focus their attention. But ADHD is the newer term and it adds a ‘hyperactivity’ component to these attention issues. Children with ADHD usually have problems focussing, are hyperactive, and often impulsive. But luckily there are simple things you can do to help your child deal with these challenges.

Both ADD and ADHD are terms used to describe children who find it challenging to focus their attention.

For example, they might get distracted in class, have trouble finishing their homework, or spend a lot of time daydreaming. Many children struggle with these things, but with some, it starts affecting their day-to-day functioning.

ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is an older term, not used by professionals anymore.

It was used back in the 80s and focussed only on attention-related issues. But people soon noticed that these attention issues were often linked to hyperactivity. And so professionals slowly phased out ‘ADD’ and slipped its characteristics into their newly-defined ‘ADHD’. People still use the term ADD informally, though, which is why things sometimes get confusing.

ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) is the formal term we now use. And it brings in the ‘hyperactivity’ component.

You’ll notice hyperactive children squirming a lot, being full of energy, acting impulsively and struggling to wait their turn. And as they grow older, you’ll likely notice them being more talkative than their classmates.

But ADHD is really an umbrella term for everyday behaviour patterns that we can all spot.

See if you’ve noticed any of these behaviour patterns in your child.

  1. Problems focussing: This shows up as finding it hard to listen to the teacher, getting distracted even while playing, making careless mistakes by not paying attention to details, being disorganised, regularly losing belongings, forgetting things easily, and avoiding projects that need sustained focus or thinking.
  2. Hyperactivity: You may notice your child is always moving around and finds it hard to sit still. She might talk too much. When playing, she might find it hard to play quietly. And ‘play time’ may eat into other parts of her life, so she’ll be running, jumping, and climbing even when it’s not allowed.
  3. Being impulsive: She might sometimes say things without thinking them through properly, or do things she shouldn’t really be doing. She might find it hard to wait for things, or taking turns when playing games with her friends. She might regularly interrupt other people — calling out answers in class before being asked, for example. And you might even find her being slightly unsafe at times — perhaps running into a street without checking for traffic.

So, how can we help children who have attention and hyperactivity issues?

Many children have problems with attention and would prefer to go out and play, rather than study. But if your child struggles with this more than others, there are things you can do to help.

  1. Remind yourself that your child has some unique challenges. Children with ADHD have brains that are functionally different. So, regular parenting strategies might not work.
  2. Realise that these differences don’t mean she can’t learn to adapt. The trick is to use new strategies to help her get things done.
  3. Learn to gently motivate and direct her behaviour. This is the root strategy you’ll be using. It means rewarding her when she does good things and taking away rewards or punishing her when she behaves inappropriately. Most parents do this intuitively, but you might have to be a bit more structured about this. And you’ll need to make sure these rules carry over to when she’s at school or spending time with friends.
  4. Clearly explain what she should and shouldn’t be doing. She needs to understand what the rules are and you’ll need to be consistent in enforcing them. You don’t want to curb a tantrum one day and let it slide the next. The more consistent you are, the better the chances she’ll begin to remember the consequences and try to follow instructions better.
  5. Be mindful of dangerous situations. If she has trouble curbing her impulses, you’ll need to pay special attention when she’s doing high-risk things like crossing the street or playing near a swimming pool.
  6. Work with your child, not against her. She’ll need your patience and love because a lot of what you’re asking will be frustrating for her. So, try to make sure she understands why you’re doing what you’re doing. For example, when she throws a tantrum, give her a ‘time out,’ but explain how it’ll help. When she sees that you understand her frustration, she’s more likely to calm down and work with you.
  7. Manage your expectations. You’re not going to be able to change her overnight. And you’re not going to be able to control all her attention and hyperactivity issues. But with a little patience, empathy, and flexibility, you can slowly chip away at these seemingly unresolvable issues.

If you’re worried about your child, consider taking her to a child psychologist.

Just because your child is slightly distracted or hyperactive, it doesn’t mean she has ADHD. So, a trained psychologist will be able to help you understand the situation better. She’ll be using a specific set of criteria to make an evaluation. For example, any questionable behaviour needs to be happening in multiple settings, like both at home and school. There needs to be a consistent pattern of behaviour, not just an occasional problem or two. And these behaviour patterns need to have been around for a while — say, 6 months or more.

Before going for a session, try and list some of the challenges your child is facing.

You’ll have an idea of what’s happening at home, but you might need to talk to your child’s teacher to find out about the problems she faces in class. For example, how does she engage with the lessons and her friends? Are there any specific triggers for her problem behaviours? And which teaching strategies have worked and which haven’t? See if your teacher can write out a report to help the psychologist assess your child. You could also contact other adults in your child’s life, like sports coaches and former teachers.

If you’re in London and would like to talk to a child psychologist, feel free to set up a consultation with us.

The Ed Psych Practice offers consultation, advice, and problem solving for parents, nurseries, schools, and colleges.

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