ADD – what’s in a NAME?

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

Graphic of musical notes on a rainbow colored wavy scale, to reference the fact that the quote is from the lyrics of a song by The Beatles
“Her name was McGill, she called herself Lil,

everyone knew her as Nancy” ———————————————————————————————————–

Yeah, well Rocky Racoon’s lady love had nuthin‘ on ADD!


That cluster of symptoms now known “officially” as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has has been known by more names than almost any other disorder in the DSM* – maybe more than any disorder in the DSM*.

  • MBD: Minimal Brain Damage;
  • HRC: Hyperkinetic Reaction of Childhood;
  • ADD: Attention Deficit Disorder;
  • AD/HD:  Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder
  • ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

How come?  And why should we care?

*DSM: Diagnostic & Statistical Manual,
published by the American Psychological Association

What’s in a name?

A LOT, actually.

Did you know that one of the purposes for names – all nouns, in fact – is to give us a kind of mutually accepted code word to conserve brain resources for more valuable work?

That little tactic streamlines communication.

Who wants to spend all of our time defining the meaning of the nouns we use?  Right? Don’t we wanna’ move right on to the concept we want to communicate with those nouns?

Sure we do.  So our brains skip merrily over those “code words” almost as soon as they’re defined. No sense spending brainpower there — we already know what that means!  

Neat trick, huh?  

Anybody see the problem with that?

If we’re, essentially, unconscious about the terms we use to define things, we may both (to misquote the old song) say “po-tay-to” or both say “po-tah-to” — and be talking about two different things!  

And the more specific the terms SEEM to be,
the less apt we are to wonder 
about what we mean by them!

Let’s hear it for linguistic specificity

The above dynamic makes things difficult enough in everyday communication, but when we’re talking about a book that doctors will use to determine diagnoses and treatment protocols, we have to think l-o-n-g and h-a-r-d about the implications of the terms we assign and the decisions we make.

That’s why you’ll never catch me using an “H” in any name used to refer to the general cluster of symptoms that was once officially called ADD — unless I am specifically referring to gross motor hyperactivity!  I will always refer to this particular attentional disorder as “ADD” rather than the version with the “H.”

Yes, I’m well aware that the “official” name is ADHD these days, and I believe that is a naming convention that is beyond dangerous!!

Because I know that as soon as doctors who aren’t well-versed in ADD start looking at that “H,” they’ll start looking for what they consider to be hyperactivity as diagnosticand I know what will happen next:

  • They’ll miss most of the hypo-actives,
  • They’ll miss most ADDults, and
  • They’ll miss a large majority of women and girls with ADD (whose “hyperactivity” looks very different from what doctors are used to seeing in boys).

And MOST doctors are not well-versed in ADD, by the way.

Think I’m Splitting Hairs? Over-reacting?

In other posts on this site, I tell you how an entire generation of ADDers was totally dismissed because of a similar “unconscious” classification that happened with the DSM-II, when child psychology was eager to differentiate itself from adult psychology in the minds of the public.

The advocates for child psychology won the coin toss for “MBD,” which was renamed HRC in that particular version, Hyperreactive Disorder of Childhood.

Over twenty years later, there are still doctors who claim to treat ADD who haven’t read the memo that it does NOT go away at puberty, and more than a few who look to gross motor hyperactivity as a litmus test.

Since I happened to be one of those whose life has been FAR more difficult than it had to be as a result of that “little” oversight, I have a vested interest in seeing that it doesn’t happen to YOU or anyone you love!

A little thinking-it-through goes a l-o-n-g way.
Unfortunately, FAILURE to think things through goes FARTHER!!!

Interested in reading more?

Check out The Top Ten Stupid Comments by [supposed] ADD Professionals.

Be SURE to scroll down to read the comments to that article, by the way.  There are a couple of MDs who were willing to go on record with their reaction to the comments made by their colleagues (and quite a few more who gave me the “thumbs up” by private email.)

Related articles on

(Articles below set to open in a NEW window/tab – close THAT window when done. Blame WordPress glitches if an article below opens in this window – in that case, use your browser’s back button to return to this page!)

Some articles in the ADD Overview series:

Some articles in the Attention series:

Some articles in the Differential Diagnosis series:

Some articles about meds/non-meds, diagnosis & doctors:

Similar articles from mentees and students:


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