These symptoms of this ADHD subtype are not as well-known and can be easy to miss.
By now, most adults (especially parents and teachers) are pretty familiar at the telltale symptoms of ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The rambunctious, restless, impulsive behavior inevitably draws attention to itself, especially in structured settings like school. (Learn more about the difference between ADHD and just “being fidgety.”)
While this type of brain disorder gets a lot of attention, another subtype of ADHD can more commonly fly under the radar. Inattentive ADHD, formerly known as ADD, is easy to miss in children, even byadults who spend tons of time with them.
You can categorize ADHD into three main types, according to Yamalis Diaz, PhD, psychologist at NYU Langone Health:
ADHD, predominantly inattentive subtype
ADHD, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive subtype
Symptoms of Inattentive ADHD
Unlike the hyperactive behaviors typically associated with ADHD, the inattentive subtype includes less noticeable symptoms. Here are signs you may notice in a child with inattentive ADHD, according to Khadijah Watkins, MD, psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medicine.
Many of these behaviors occur silently and do not necessarily catch the attention of parents or teachers. “With inattention, a lot of times these kids are not noticed right away, because they don’t cause any real trouble,” says Susan Samuels, MD, psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medicine. “They’re just not focused so much in school.”
Since it’s hard to “see” inattention, you can also look for these clues:
Not finishing homework or chores
Rushing through schoolwork and making careless mistakes
Full and messy backpacks
Difficulty finding things and frequently losing things
Zoning out during conversations
Avoiding or disliking tasks that require extended mental effort
Doodling instead of taking notes
How Inattentive ADHD Affects Children
Some kids with inattentive ADHD may be able to get by in school despite their challenges focusing—at least for a while. “Naturally smart children can sometimes mask that difficulty until the natural intelligence is outweighed by new content that needs to be learned,” says Dr. Diaz.
Children may increasingly struggle to keep up in school. Even worse, teachers may be unsympathetic if they incorrectly perceive the student as lazy or apathetic (a common misconception of people with inattentive ADHD).
Kids with inattentive ADHD may also struggle socially. “It’s hard for them to keep up with friends, [and] it’s hard for them to keep up with rules,” says Dr. Watkins. For example, a child with inattentive ADHD may be daydreaming when a friend passes them a football, or they might be doodling or zoning out when their group partners are doing all the work. Children might not always be patient, understanding, or forgiving of these off-task behaviors.
It can be just as frustrating to the social dynamic at home. Parents can become understandably frustrated by their kid’s “careless” mistakes on schoolwork, disorganized backpacks and bedrooms, poor grades from missing or incomplete assignments, or even perceived laziness.
How Inattentive ADHD Is Treated
“ADHD is treated primarily with medications. There are also some therapies that can be helpful,” says Dr. Samuels. Find out more information about medication options for ADHD.
Some medications may not treat all aspects of a child’s inattentive ADHD. They may need therapy to help them learn skills or coping strategies to organize their folders better, manage time, focus in class, or finish tasks. These will be important skills as they age, while their classwork becomes more demanding and they are expected to work more independently.
Inattentive ADHD often goes unnoticed—and thus untreated—until adulthood. (Here are signs of inattentive ADHD in adults.) Catching ADHD early can help a child learn crucial skills that can put them on a better path as they progress through school and beyond.
Dr. Diaz is a psychologist at NYU Langone Health.Khadijah Watkins
Dr. Watkins is an assistant professor of psychiatry in the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine and an assistant attending psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.Susan Samuels
Dr. Samuels is an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and clinical pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine and an assistant attending psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.
00:00:00,000 --> 00:00:02,447
00:00:02,447 --> 00:00:06,385
So ADD is actually an old name for
what is now called ADHD,
00:00:06,385 --> 00:00:09,108
predominantly inattentive subtype.
00:00:09,108 --> 00:00:14,959
00:00:14,959 --> 00:00:18,329
So we have an ADHD predominantly
00:00:18,329 --> 00:00:23,070
a predominantly hyperactive,
impulsive subtype, and a combined subtype.
00:00:23,070 --> 00:00:27,230
The symptoms of inattention look
like distractability, daydreaming,
00:00:27,230 --> 00:00:30,330
some disorganization, so
seeming to be off task.
00:00:30,330 --> 00:00:33,840
Seeming to be behind because
they're not fully attending.
00:00:33,840 --> 00:00:37,430
a lot of times these kids are not noticed,
00:00:37,430 --> 00:00:41,380
actually, right away cuz they
don't cause any real trouble.
00:00:41,380 --> 00:00:44,340
They're just not focused so
much in school.
00:00:44,340 --> 00:00:47,920
So one of the signs might be that
homework doesn't get done or
00:00:47,920 --> 00:00:49,820
assignments aren't completed fully.
00:00:49,820 --> 00:00:51,730
They're often disorganized.
00:00:51,730 --> 00:00:56,350
The backpacks will be full of papers,
the desks will be full of papers or
00:00:56,350 --> 00:00:59,000
wrappers or pencils and pens.
00:00:59,000 --> 00:01:00,890
And it's very difficult to find things,
00:01:00,890 --> 00:01:03,120
which makes it very
difficult to be productive.
00:01:03,120 --> 00:01:07,427
Naturally smart children, and this is,
I think, important for parents to know,
00:01:07,427 --> 00:01:11,551
naturally smart children can sometimes
mask that difficulty until the natural
00:01:11,551 --> 00:01:15,083
intelligence is outweighd by new
content that needs to be learned.
00:01:15,083 --> 00:01:18,861
And then we tend to see that even
really smart kids will struggle.
00:01:18,861 --> 00:01:22,867
So ADHD can affect socialization,
in that kids who are inattentive, it's
00:01:22,867 --> 00:01:26,820
hard for them to keep up with the games,
hard for them to keep up with rules.
00:01:26,820 --> 00:01:30,800
If we're playing football, and
I'm going to pass you the ball,
00:01:30,800 --> 00:01:32,840
you might be looking up at the sky and
00:01:32,840 --> 00:01:34,830
sometimes that makes it frustrating for
00:01:34,830 --> 00:01:40,090
kids to have that level of engagement with
another kid who's not on task in that way.
00:01:40,090 --> 00:01:43,520
It sometimes becomes frustrating for
parents, or even siblings,
00:01:43,520 --> 00:01:48,600
when it seems like their child or
their sibling is not paying attention.
00:01:48,600 --> 00:01:49,800
Their name is being called, but
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they're not responding because
they're daydreaming or inattentive.
00:01:53,996 --> 00:01:59,030
The disorganization also sometimes creates
a lot of conflict because the rooms
00:01:59,030 --> 00:02:03,650
are junky, the cabinets are left open,
the doors are left open.
00:02:03,650 --> 00:02:06,900
ADHD is primary
treated with medications.
00:02:06,900 --> 00:02:11,750
There are also some therapies that can
be helpful in sort of organizing and
00:02:11,750 --> 00:02:12,590
00:02:12,590 --> 00:02:16,870
There are going to be times where even
the medications aren't gonna help
00:02:16,870 --> 00:02:18,350
every part of their ADHD.
00:02:18,350 --> 00:02:20,910
They're gonna have to learn how to
00:02:20,910 --> 00:02:22,655
organize their folders
a little bit better.
00:02:22,655 --> 00:02:26,530
They're gonna have to learn how to
attend in class a little bit better.
00:02:26,530 --> 00:02:30,787
And so sometimes therapies can be helpful
in developing those better habits.
00:02:30,787 --> 00:02:36,329
How ADHD (inattentive type) looks a lot like learning disabilities. New York, NY: ADDitude Mag. (Accessed on January 15, 2021 at https://www.additudemag.com/how-adhd-inattentive-type-looks-a-lot-like-learning-disabilities/.)
What inattentive ADHD looks like in the (not so) wild. New York, NY: ADDitude Mag. (Accessed on January 15, 2021 at https://www.additudemag.com/slideshows/symptoms-of-inattentive-adhd/.)Which ADHD medication is best? ADD stimulants, nonstimulants, & more. New York, NY: ADDitude Mag. (Accessed on January 15, 2021 at https://www.additudemag.com/which-adhd-medication-is-best/.)