What Is ADHD Inattentive Type?


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disorder that affects behaviour and can co-occur with other disorders such as anxiety or insomnia. It has long been misunderstood, but as research uncovers more about human behaviour and neuroscience, disorders such as ADHD are no longer such a mystery.

What is now called ADHD can be split into three sub-types; inattentive ADHD, hyperactive ADHD and combined ADHD.

Once called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), the inattentive type is a subtype of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that often manifests as limited attention span, distractibility, forgetfulness, or procrastination.

What Is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

Approximately 3-5% of children and 2% of adults in the UK are diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, making it one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children.

Despite significant progress in understanding ADHD and its subtypes, many still associate ADHD with high-energy, loud, fast-paced individuals. In actuality, only around 20 to 25% of people with ADHD fit the hyperactive subtype, which often displays these characteristics. The other 75 to 80% of people can be categorised as having one of the other two forms of ADHD; predominantly inattentive ADHD or combined ADHD. 

Scientists are still studying the causes and risk factors of ADHD; however, these still remain mostly unknown. Current research shows that genetics plays an important role, and there could be other risk factors too.

Inattentive type ADHD was referred to as ADD and considered a stand-alone condition; however, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) changed this in 1987. The APA further developed things in 2013 to recognise the inattentive type of ADHD many people presented with, in addition to the predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation.

What are Inattentive ADHD Symptoms?

Inattentive presentation ADHD symptoms vary depending on a number of factors, including age and gender.

The generalised manual for diagnosing inattentive ADHD is the DSM-V. This lists nine diagnostic criteria, or symptoms, of inattentive ADHD. In a child or adolescent, a minimum of six should significantly disrupt a patient’s life in order to meet the diagnosis of inattentive type ADHD. For those over 17, just five or more symptoms should be present to meet a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Inattentive presentation is diagnosed with the following nine symptoms:

  • Often failing to give close attention to details or making careless mistakes at work or school
  • Often having trouble holding attention on tasks or activities and being easily distracted
  • Often appearing as if not listening when spoken to directly
  • Often not following through on instructions and failing to finish chores, schoolwork or other duties due to losing focus and getting side-tracked
  • Often experiencing difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  • Often appearing to dislike, avoid or be reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort for a long period of time
  • Often losing things such as school materials, keys, wallet, mobile phone
  • Generally being forgetful in daily activities
  • Often distracted by stimuli

Other common signs and symptoms of inattentive ADHD include:

  • Trouble organizing tasks
  • Struggling to complete tasks
  • Makes careless mistakes
  • Trouble focusing
inattentiveness adhd

Diagnosis of Inattentive ADHD

In order to get a thorough understanding of how these symptoms affect your life and in order to diagnose you with the disorder, a doctor will ask several questions about your ability to complete daily tasks such as paying bills. For young people, this could be questions about schoolwork. The interview will include questions about how you deal with certain events and functioning in social settings.

The doctor will sometimes also conduct a physical examination to assess for any other medical conditions. ADHD has historically been diagnosed more in males than females, and people with inattentive ADHD regularly go undiagnosed altogether.

Because the symptoms of inattentive ADHD are often less obvious and generally outwardly apparent, many children with this presentation are not supported in school, especially girls. Their symptoms are often missed or mistaken for a passive, lazy personality, a learning disability or a mental health condition. More information about ADHD in girls can be found via our blog ADHD in Teenage Girls and Young Women.

Managing Inattentiveness, ADHD and Distractibility

Living with inattentive ADHD can be challenging and highly frustrating. It is still not widely accepted and understood and can often be mistaken for laziness, disorganisation or even stupidity. This can have a profound affect on mental health as some struggle with everyday tasks.

Whether diagnosed in childhood or adulthood, a range of therapies, medications and coping mechanisms can help those with inattentive ADHD.

The best hope of managing ADHD generally comes from getting a diagnosis as early as possible. This will help you to understand what type of ADHD you have, and you can begin to create coping mechanisms and take control of your life.

Managing Inattentive ADHD With Therapy

Certain behaviour therapies can be used as treatment for ADHD. Behavioral therapy can help you to identify and change problematic behaviours that are negatively impacting your life.

It can help people with inattentive type ADHD function and focus at school, work, or home. Removing certain things that can be distracting and creating a more predictable, stable environment for yourself is a key factor in leading a successful life with inattentive type ADHD.

There are a range of ways that this can be put into action for both children and adults:

  • Creating a detailed, manageable and realistic routine and sticking to it. A sense of order and predictability helps inattentive children stay focused, so following the same schedule can make a huge difference to functioning and reducing stress.
  • Removing distractions such as TV, radio, other devices or other children when trying to focus on or organize tasks.
  • Asking people to be brief and clear when giving you instructions, and doing the same when giving instructions to someone that you think may have inattentive type ADHD.
  • Create a behavior chart to help work toward a reward for positive behaviors. This can be adapted for children and adults and have individualized goals.

Managing ADHD With Medication

While some people may display few or no symptoms, others may experience a range of inattentive symptoms that profoundly affect their lives. This could range from trouble organising tasks or staying focused and significant problems with daily activities like remembering to pay bills. In this case, there are medications available that can reduce a person’s symptoms and improve daily life. Stimulants are the most common type of drugs used to treat inattentive type ADHD. Stimulants work by helping your brain focus on tasks if you have inattentive symptoms.

The most widely used medications include Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine), Concerta and Ritalin (methylphenidate). These ADHD medications are available in long-acting form, helping those struggling with the nine symptoms to focus for longer periods of time.

Wellness professionals are still searching for the best ways to help reduce symptoms of ADHD and better understand the neurodevelopmental disorder.

Causes of Inattentive ADHD

Although the causes of ADHD are still not known for certain, studies have suggested certain risk factors for developing ADHD. This includes premature birth, having family members with ADHD, being born with a low birth weight, environmental toxins and smoking or drinking during pregnancy. ADHD is often recognised in childhood and regularly diagnosed in middle school.

Other Sub-Types of ADHD

In addition to predominantly inattentive presentation, the other sub-types of ADHD have their own characteristics, signs, symptoms and management.

Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive symptoms are generally more well-known, as they are easier to spot. People with this type will often fidget and talk a lot. They may struggle to sit still or seem to be constantly running, jumping or moving and feel restless. Impulsivity is also a core part of this type, and people may frequently interrupt others, grab things from them, speak at inappropriate times and generally struggle to control their impulses.

Combined presentation causes individuals to display equal amounts of both hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive behaviors.

In addition, many children with ADHD are diagnosed with related conditions, including anxiety disorder, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Contact Us

Inattentive ADHD can be isolating and leave you feeling misunderstood and undervalued. At the Wave Clinic, we adopt a whole-person approach, tailoring treatment to the specific needs of each individual young person that we meet. We believe you have the ability to regain self-confidence and self-esteem and regain control of your life. Full recovery and positive growth is achievable for everyone. Reach out to The Wave today to speak to a member of our team to learn more.

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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