Defining Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) Without Hyperactivity

Symptoms and Differences in ADD Without Hyperactivity

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Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is a neurological disorder that causes a range of behavior problems such as difficulty attending to instruction, focusing on schoolwork, keeping up with assignments, following instructions, completing tasks and social interaction.

Problems Often Associated with ADD

ADD may also involve hyperactivity with behavior problems. In addition, students with ADD may have learning disabilities and are often at risk for repeated disciplinary problems in schools.

In fact, adults and peers alike may conclude that such students are lazy because of their inattention to tasks and failure to follow through with assignments.

Learn more about ADD, its symptoms, and treatment with this review. While ADD is extremely common, misperceptions about the disorder continue to circulate.

How ADD Differs From Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity (ADHD)

ADD does not manifest itself in the same way that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) does, but the two conditions are often discussed as if they're the same. This is concerning because students with the conditions exhibit different symptoms.

Children with ADHD, for example, tend to act out or exhibit behavior problems in class. Children with ADD are generally not disruptive in school. They may even sit in class quietly, but that doesn't mean their disorder isn't a problem and that they're not struggling to focus.

In addition, not all children with ADD are alike. Learn about the seven different forms of ADD.

How ADD Is Treated

ADD is sometimes treated with stimulant medications such as Ritalin. In some cases, stimulant medications can help students with ADD stay on-task and focused. However, some stimulant medications have been associated with serious side effects.

As a result, many parents hesitate to use Ritalin, Adderall or other medications to treat ADD.

Whether or not parents choose to medicate their children, most physicians and child psychologists suggest that a behavior intervention plan should be developed to help teach kids adaptive behavior skills and reduce off-task and inattentive behaviors.

This may be even more helpful than drug use, especially because some students diagnosed with ADD or ADHD actually don't have these conditions but behave as if they do due to personal or family problems. Behavior intervention plans can help students with problem behaviors, whether they actually have ADD or exhibit ADD-like behaviors.

Certainly, there is an advantage of behavior intervention plans long term, as these adaptations may result in permanent improvement in concentration skills which a medication cannot provide.

Common Characteristics of ADD Without Hyperactivity

Children with ADD without the hyperactivity component may appear to be bored or disinterested in classroom activities. They may be prone to daydreaming or forgetfulness, work at a slow pace and turn in incomplete work.

Their assignment may look disorganized as well as their desks and locker spaces.

They may lose materials at school and at home or misplace schoolwork and fail to turn in assignments. This can frustrate teachers, parents and result in the child earning poor marks in class. Behavior intervention may counter the child's forgetfulness.

Fear of Labeling

Some parents of frightened that if they have their child tested for ADD she will be labeled. As a parent, however, you can do a lot to prevent this from happening. It's important to talk to your child so that she knows she is not doing anything wrong in struggling with ADD, but instead, that it is up to you as a parent to help her learn the skills that will help her learn as easily as possible given her unique make up.

A Word From Verywell

If you suspect your child has ADD with or without hyperactivity, talk to your child's school counselor, teacher or physician about appropriate treatment.

Your pediatrician may recommend seeing a child psychologist who can do formal testing on your child to both see if she fits the criteria for ADD, and where she happens to be on the spectrum. Not only can this testing help differentiate ADD from other issues which may be causing difficulty with school work, but can be used to follow a child's response to interventions over time.

If you have any concern, begin these discussions today. A diagnosis of ADD does not mean you are committed to treating your child with medications (as you may be led to believe based on how prevalent this has become). There are many different approaches involved in treating ADD only one of which is medications. Early intervention can prevent the disorder from taking a detrimental toll on a child's life.


Goth-Owens, T., Martinez-Torteya, C., Martel, M., and J. Nigg. Processing Speed Weakness in Children and Adolescents with Non-Hyperactive but Inattentive ADHD (ADD). Child Neuropsychology. 2010. 16(6):577-91.