Explore What ADD/ADHD Is and How It’s Treated

We all feel distracted at times — but is it a sign of something else? Learn what ADD/ADHD is and when it’s time to seek help.

What is ADD/ADHD and when is it time to seek help?

Most of us have probably heard about ADD or ADHD. But what is ADD and ADHD, exactly? And what do we need to know about the disorders? Explore the signs of ADD/ADHD and when it’s time to talk to a healthcare provider to ensure your loved one gets the correct diagnosis.

ADD versus ADHD

Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is an older medical term that is still commonly used to describe a condition with symptoms of distractibility, poor working memory and inattention. Patients often have trouble focusing on schoolwork, easily lose track of time and habitually forget appointments. While ADD is an outdated term, some people still use this to refer to a certain subset of symptoms that fall under the umbrella of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

ADHD is a condition that can vary from person to person. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and can last into adulthood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9.4% of children and teens in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD. ADHD symptoms fall into one of three subtypes:

  • Inattentive: This is what is often referred to as “ADD.” When a person has the inattentive subtype of ADHD, they have symptoms of inattention, but they generally do not have symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity. Symptoms of inattention include disorganization, problems staying on task, constant daydreaming and not paying attention when spoken to directly.
  • Hyperactive/impulsive: When a person has the hyperactive/impulsive subtype of ADHD, they have symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity, but they generally do not have symptoms of inattention. Symptoms of hyperactivity include squirming, fidgeting, tapping, talking and constant movement, especially in situations where it’s not appropriate. Symptoms of impulsivity include making quick decisions without thinking of the consequences, interrupting others and trouble waiting/being impatient.
  • Combined: When a person has the combined subtype of ADHD, they have symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

While impulsivity, inattention and hyperactivity are important symptoms for an ADHD diagnosis, a child or adult must also meet the following criteria to be diagnosed with ADHD:

  • Displays symptoms before the age of 12.
  • Has symptoms in more than one setting, such as at home, school, with friends or during other activities.
  • Shows evidence that the symptoms interfere with their functioning at work, school or in social situations.

ADHD treatment

When a child is diagnosed with ADHD, parents often have questions about which treatment is right for their child. The treatment option that works best will depend on the individual child and family. Your doctor may recommend behavior therapy, medications or a combination of the two.

ADHD is often treated with a stimulant medication like Ritalin or Adderall. This can help a person stay on-task and focused. However, some medications have been associated with side effects such as decreased appetite, which is why some parents are hesitant to try medication to treat ADHD. If you have concerns about medications, discuss them with your physician so they can provide you the information you need to make the best decision for you and your family.

Many physicians will suggest the development of a behavioral intervention plan to teach children the skills they need to help them stay on task, keep organized and decrease problematic behaviors. In all cases, a good evaluation by your medical provider is needed, as some symptoms of ADHD can be caused by other issues, such as anxiety or family/personal problems. Based on this evaluation, you and your physician can come up with a plan that works for you and your family.

If you have questions about what ADD/ADHD is and its symptoms, find a nearby Valleywise Community Health Center or call 1 (833) VLLYWSE to schedule an in-person or virtual appointment.


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/facts.html
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/treatment.html
  3. https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/add-adhd/difference-between-add-adhd
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html#:~:text=Millions%20of%20US%20children%20have,children%20aged%206%E2%80%9311%20years

About the Author

Wendy Watson, MD, MPH - Behavioral Health

Dr. Watson is a District Medical Group psychiatrist and the Medical Director for the Outpatient Clinic at Valleywise Behavioral Health Center-Mesa. She currently teaches psychiatry residents, child and adolescent fellows and medical students through Creighton University and is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Phoenix Campus. Dr. Watson studied medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, completed psychiatry residency at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, and completed a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry through Valleywise Health. Dr. Watson is board certified in both child and adolescent psychiatry and adult psychiatry.

Read more posts by Wendy Watson, MD, MPH  Browse all topics

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