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Dr Hallowell ADHD and mental and cognitive health

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Why so many different names? Are they different?

So many names — who wouldn’t be confused? In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-IV, often called the “bible” of psychiatric and psychological diagnosis), it’s written out as “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.” Within this diagnosis, however, are four types: Predominantly Inattentive, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive, Combined, and Not Otherwise Specified (NOS). “ADHD” or “AD/HD” may be used to refer to any of the four types — even those with no symptoms of Hyperactivity — because in the DSM-IV they’re all included under the same heading. (Confusing, isn’t it?!) In order to decrease the confusion, some of us use “ADD” to refer to the Predominantly Inattentive type of ADHD.

But it gets even more confusing! Some people use “ADD” to refer to all ADHD, because they’re referring to adults (where the Hyperactivity is less common), or because it’s simply easier to say, or because they think the “disorder” is misnamed in the first place.

As clinicians, when we work with a specific client, we make sure to use the term that makes the most sense for that particular person; and we make sure to explain which term we’re using and why. On this website, we’ll use both “ADHD” and “ADD” depending on context. And we’ll wait patiently for a day when the powers that be create more accurate diagnostic names!

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