ADD Overview II: Identifying Traits

 Remember – links on this site are dark grey to reduce distraction potential
while you’re reading. They turn red on mouseover.

I use “ADD” to include AD/HD etc. Check out What’s in a Name for why.

ADD Characteristics & Identifying Traits

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Second article in a 5-Part Series

Not necessarily diagnosic - but what it looks like in life

You might find it a bit easier to understand how ADD impacts the lives of the individuals who have been diagnosed as you read through this list and the ones to follow.

Other than the introductory post, ADD Overview 101, I offer the Overview series of posts in list format, so that you can “go down the lists and check things off.”

For some of you, that will help “unpack” what you might have tried to read in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual or on other websites.  

I also want to offer a few “quickie overviews” to serve as a summary of what you will find in various books and articles about ADD.  

  • While not part of the “official” diagnostic criteria, and certainly not a complete list of ADD characteristics and traits, the features listed below are found in most ADDers.  
  • Most of them are not specific symptoms of the disorder itself.
  • Rather, they are the manifestations of the symptoms, and are often more easily identifiable.

By no means do I mean to imply that these traits are found exclusively in individuals with ADD, although ADDers seem to have more than a fair share of  them, compared to the rest of the population.

It is important to remember that
an ADD *diagnosis* is a matter of degree:

  • How many of these “ADD traits” are present?
  • How often do they rear their ugly heads?
  • How strongly do they manifest whenever they show up?
  • How long have they been showing up?
  • How disabling are they to the individual’s life trajectory?

The Articles of the ADD Overview series:

ADD Overview 101
ADD Overview II: Identifying Traits
ADD Overview III: Associated Features
ADD Overview IV: Hyperarousal
ADD Overview V: Red Flag Warnings

Common ADD Characteristics: Identifying Traits

NOTICE that some of the manifestations are “filed” under more than one category.  That’s because lack of coordination between a number of factors is more problematic than any one of the factors in isolation.  It’s impossible to decide the single “best” place to list it!

“Chronically late,” for example, could be a result of poor time management skills, lack of internal time sense, troubles transitioning from one activity to another, poor organizational abilities, and a half a dozen other ADD characteristics.

To keep from duplicating everything everywhere, I made an executive decision (or several!).

You will probably find that some things fit better in a completely different category in
YOUR life – so don’t take these lists too literally.

NOTE: the linked “related articles” at the end of each category will get you started
most of the individual articles have additional suggestions at the bottom


1. Difficulty in attending

  • Trouble directing/sustaining attention
  • Reading difficulties
    •  Difficulties Concentrating
    •  Words “jump” out of context
    •   Low retention rate
  • Difficulty completing projects
  • Easily overwhelmed by tasks of daily living
  • Easily dragged off the point
  • Difficulty recapturing the moment when interrupted
  • Trouble maintaining an organized living/workspace
  • Inconsistent work performance
  • Lack of attention to detail / hyper-attention to detail
  • Loses/misplaces things repeatedly
  • Need for immediate & consistent positive reinforcement to overcome challenges
  • Delay intolerance, chronic expressions of “boredom”

A BIT OF HELP: Related Articles here on

2. Impulsivity & Hyperactivity

  • Stress intolerance
    •  confusion
    •  uncertainty & second-guessing
    •  trouble making decisions
    •  anxiety
    •  anger
    •  depression
  • Fails to anticipate consequences
    •  Makes decisions impulsively
    •  Makes statements without considering their impact (tactless)
    •  Frequent traffic violations
  • Difficulty delaying gratification
    •  Restlessness
    •  Impatient
    •  Easily frustrated
  • Stimulation seeking
    •  Talking excessively
    •  Fidgeting/squirming — foot jiggling, pen clicking, pencil chewing, nail biting
    •  Restlessness
    •  Chronic multitasking
  • Impatient
    •  Easily frustrated
    •  Frequent traffic violations
    •  Flies into fits of temper or crying, especially when systems disrupted (who moved my whatever!?  I told you never to touch my things!)

A BIT OF HELP: Related Articles here on

3. Chronic Disorganization

  • Piles vs. Files
  • Seemingly illogical resistance to systemization (often “list averse”)
  • Resistance to putting away multiple pieces of various incomplete projects
    (“It’s all out where I can see it”)
  • Conversely – a “stasher” (“As long as I don’t have to look at it, I’m good!”)
  • Tendency to create additional problems in attempts to organize
  • Additional disorder created frequently looking for missing items:
    papers for school, keys, wallets and purses, cell phones, shoes, etc.
  • “Nothing to wear” in a closet over-flowing with items
  • Throws clean clothes in the hamper “just to get rid of the mess”
    (or to avoid having to hang them up!)
  • Could be a “clutterbug” who won’t throw anything out
  • Could also live “like a monk” to AVOID having to organize
  • Arguments with parents, roomies and spouses center on “the mess”

4. Distorted Time Perception & Troubles with Transitions

  • How long is a function of how interesting
  • Frequently late – tough to get going
  • Little patience for waiting (short waits seem interminable)
  • Difficulty estimating realistically how long a task takes (over and under-estimates)
  • Multiple failures allotting appropriate time
  • Transition troubles can manifest as chronic procrastination
  • Hyperfocus can take over when the task is interesting or enjoyable (time disappears)
  • Tough to pull off task once started (“Just ONE more minute”)
  • Tough to get started AGAIN after a distraction or interruption

5.  Trouble with directionality

  • Gets lost easily – even in areas they’ve been before
  • Low map reading skills
  • Two-dimension to 3-dimension difficulties
  • Frequently mixes up right and left
  • “Orients” by repetition and habit – goes CRAZY when somebody moves something!
  • Sometimes organizes SO specifically that it looks more like OCD (or anxiety)
  • Tends to avoid tasks that require directionality; not always aware of why

A BIT OF HELP: Related Articles here on

  • ABOUT Black and White Thinking
  • The Link between Black and White Thinking and Directionality (coming soon)
  • Finding your Way when you LIVE lost (coming soon)

As always,
if you want notification of new articles – in the ADD Overview Series, or any new posts on this blog – give your email address to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too) STRICT No Spam Policy

HOWEVER you do it, stay tuned — there’s A LOT to know, and a lot more to come. Get it here, while its still free for the taking!

If you’d like some one-on-one (or group) coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this article (either for your own life, that of a loved one, or as coaching skills development), click the E-me link <—here (or on the menubar at the top of every page) and I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

Articles in the ADD Overview series:

Other Related Articles here on

ALL Categories: related articles around the ‘net

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

7 Responses to ADD Overview II: Identifying Traits

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  4. noucha says:

    ADD, is it similar to OCD


    • In many ways it is, yes. ADDers tend to be less driven “toward” and more distracted “from” but an ADDers hyperfocused experience is especially similar in the “tractor beam” quality to attention.

      I believe that both have more than a few characteristics of the other profile, as I see overlapping traits with many “spectrum” disorders — in both directions.

      In my decades with ADD, I have come to identify certain profiles of tendencies as “having a high OCD piece” or “having a high Asperger’s piece” etc.

      Which is not to say that the person is diagnostic for both, only that working with WHATEVER is neurodiverse about them could benefit from taking a closer look at both.

      I have observed that we all here in “Alphabet City” <===link have more in common with each other than we do the neurotypical population.

      Thanks for taking the minutes of your life to read some of what I have written.


  5. Debug Your Brain says:

    Superbly wonderful list.

    This and you subsequent “ADD Overview” blogs in the series are a favorite reference of mine. I have used this several times with people who were a little bit curious and wondered if they had ADHD. After scoring high on this list … and light bulbs flashing all over the place … one client in particular said, “That explains a lot. So, what’s next?” Not being qualified to diagnose, I can only be suspicious of ADD/ADHD … or something … maybe, but nothing more.

    But this list, this instrument becomes one fantastic motivational tool to get a client or prospective one to see a qualified professional who can look into whatever is going on with them. The first step toward healing/adapting or just coping better begins with awareness.

    Thank you for putting it all in one (actually five) places.


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