Which Version of ADHD Do You Have?

Getting a diagnosis of ADHD can be a good thing and a bad thing. It is a good thing because the individual becomes eligible for accommodations and can take stimulant medications to level the playing field. The bad thing about the diagnosis is that, once labeled, people quit paying attention to individual differences in ADHD.

Officially, the Diagnostic Statistics Manual is used to diagnose ADHD, and from time to time, the manual is updated based on current research or updated best practices consensus. Currently we are on the DSM-5 version.

A few years ago I wrote an article based on the DSM-4 diagnostic criteria to open readers’ eyes to the notion that, once you have seen one person with ADHD, you have seen just one person with ADHD. Below is the copy from that article.

ADD traits manifest in a variety of ways and are referred to as symptoms. There are three classifications of ADD:

  • ADD/Inattentive
  • ADHD/Hyperactive
  • ADD/Combined

As human beings, we are all similar, but in the end, we are all different. The same goes for those with attention deficit disorder (ADD).

Fellow ADD coach Dan Pruitt of Parkaire Coaching frames this out in a very powerful way by looking at what it takes to be diagnosed with ADD and uses math to get his point across. Let’s take a look at Dan’s math.

Classifications Symptoms to Qualify* Formula Total Combinations
ADD/Inattentive 6 of 9 [9!/(6!*3!)] = 84 84
ADHD/Hyperactive 6 of 9 [9!/(6!*3!)] = 84 84
ADD/Combined 12 of 18 [18!/(12!*6!}*{9!/96!*3!)] = 18,564 18,564

* http://cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/diagnosis.html

To be diagnosed with ADD/inattentive, one must exhibit a combination of any six or more symptoms out of a possible nine, which means there is a total of 84 (see above table for calculation) different combinations that would result in an ADD/inattentive diagnosis.

This number excludes the 84 different symptom combinations for ADD/hyperactive (see the table for calculation) and the 18,564 different ADD/combined combinations. That is a total of 18,732 different versions of ADD. Of course, these numbers assume the symptoms present themselves at the same level of intensity and frequency in each person, which we know is not the case.

As if that were not enough, consider this. Sixty percent of those with ADD are also diagnosed with other co-existing conditions, such as dyslexia, learning disabilities, depression, sleep disorders, Tourette’s syndrome, and conduct disorders. Taking these differences into account, the possible combinations grow exponentially. In the end, how many different versions of ADD are there? We’ll skip the math, but I can tell you it is a really BIG number!

So, now, let me ask you:  Which of the tens of thousands of versions of ADD do you have? What would it look like if you paid attention to and owned your own unique version of ADD, instead of an abstract, homogenized version that inaccurately describes you? If you are paying attention to the wrong version of ADD, then you’re also paying attention to the wrong solutions. By attending to your ADD, you’ll be able to find your obvious solution, which is not so obvious to others.

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