Image of a pink-haired character looking up with a worried expression, with bold text above saying 'Inattentive ADHD Symptoms' by @the_mini_ADHD_coach.

Understanding Inattentive ADHD Symptoms

Inattentive ADHD is characterized by difficulties in maintaining focus, following detailed instructions, and organizing tasks. Unlike the hyperactive-impulsive type, individuals may seem to be daydreaming, not listening, or easily distracted by external stimuli. This form of ADHD often goes unnoticed because it lacks the overt hyperactivity and impulsivity associated with other types, making it crucial for educators and caregivers to recognize the subtler signs for proper support and intervention.

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Tayler Hackett

Mental Health Writer and ADHD Expert
In this Article
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Feeling Out of Focus? Could It Be Inattentive ADHD?

In a world that constantly demands our attention, feeling perpetually out of focus can be more than just daily stress or a bad night's sleep. What if it's a sign of inattentive ADHD? This subtype of ADHD often flies under the radar, overshadowed by its more talked about sibling, hyperactive-impulsive ADHD. 

In this article, we’ll focus on inattentive ADHD, including:

  • The core symptoms of inattentive ADHD that differentiate it from other types.
  • The challenges and misunderstandings surrounding inattentive ADHD.
  • Effective strategies and treatments for managing Inattentive ADHD.
  • Empowering stories of individuals thriving with Inattentive ADHD.

If you’re in need of a more thorough understanding of this often overlooked presentation, this article is for you. ⭐

What is Inattentive ADHD?

Predominantly inattentive type ADHD is one of the three types of ADHD, alongside predominantly hyperactive-impulsive and combined type ADHD (which combines symptoms from both). 

It primarily manifests as difficulty sustaining attention or focusing which leads to careless mistakes or difficulty organizing thoughts and surroundings. 💭 

Most of its symptoms and impacts are mental, so it’s more difficult to diagnose based on outward behaviors. It’s also why it’s so much more misunderstood - people struggle to understand what they can’t see. 🙈

Inattentive ADHD Symptoms & The Criteria

ADHD is diagnosed by healthcare professionals using the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5)

As part of the assessment, you’ll be asked to describe the ADHD symptoms that impact your life. There are actually two sets of criteria: one for inattention, and the other for hyperactivity and impulsivity.  

You’ll be diagnosed with one of the three presentations of ADHD based on how many symptoms are present from each criterion.

Here are the symptoms listed for the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD:

  1. Often makes careless mistakes
  2. Difficulty sustaining attention
  3. Does not seem to listen when in a conversation
  4. Difficulty following instructions
  5. Struggles in organization
  6. Does not prefer tasks that require sustained mental effort
  7. Loses things frequently
  8. Gets easily distracted and has trouble paying attention
  9. Being forgetful, with an impact on daily functioning

To be diagnosed with ADHD as a child up to 16 years old, six or more symptoms must be present. For adolescents and adults 17 years and above, you’ll need to display five or more symptoms. 

For inattentive ADHD, the diagnosis primarily considers symptoms of inattention. While some symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity may exist, they are not significant enough to classify under the hyperactive-impulsive or combined types of ADHD.

If you display enough symptoms from both these criteria and those for hyperactive-impulsive ADHD, you’ll be diagnosed with the combined type, instead.

Let’s explore these core symptoms in a bit more detail. 👇

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Common Inattention Symptoms

Everyone experiences things differently, so while these are a few ADHD inattentive-type symptoms that you can experience, some traits may be more common than others. There are even unofficial symptoms that aren’t listed in the DSM-5. 

Given the unique nature of each individual's experiences, it's important to acknowledge that 'unofficial' symptoms, those not explicitly mentioned in the DSM-5, can still play a significant role in how ADHD manifests in a person. 

Recognizing these symptoms can offer valuable insights into a broader spectrum of ADHD experiences, emphasizing the diversity of challenges and needs within the ADHD community.

Since experiences vary, here is a list of the inattention-specific symptoms that I frequently struggle with as someone with combined-type ADHD.

Zoning Out During Conversations

I tend to zone out during conversations, regardless of how important they are. Even when I genuinely want to listen

My friends and family sometimes get frustrated with me, and I can't blame them. We can be talking about something serious, and they’ll ask for my input. More often than not, I'll have to get them to repeat what they’ve just said a few minutes back. 

Why? It takes them asking for a response to bring back my attention, and by that point, I’ve already missed the important parts. It’s frustrating all around. 😠

Cartoon of a pink-haired individual zoning out while another person talks, with text 'Zoning out when someone is talking to you...' by @the_mini_ADHD_coach.

You see, when my mind considers me ‘trapped’ in an uninteresting conversation, I can’t help but zone out and think of all the other stuff racing through my mind. Of course, while I know my ADHD brain is easily distracted, it can make the other person feel like I don't value anything they say at all. This kind of misunderstanding can be complicated, especially if you hate conflict. 😞

Making Frequent Mistakes

Yes, neurotypical people also make errors and misjudgments, but for many people with ADHD, making careless mistakes can be a day-to-day occurrence. How we process information tends to affect our decisions and judgment, leading to more errors. Our brains are wired differently. 🧠

And since we tend to make plenty of mistakes, that builds a lack of self-trust and self-esteem. It can also lead to a comorbid anxiety disorder or mood disorder that can further worsen our thinking and functioning

Typically, to ensure that we limit careless mistakes, we'll spend a lot of time and energy trying to minimize and mask this inattentive ADHD symptom, which can be exhausting. 😴We might repeatedly check and recheck things like times, dates and locations. 

Interestingly, a recent study identified16.1% of adults with ADHD also had a diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Whilst the cause of this relationship is still unclear, it’s certainly worth noting that a key symptom of OCD is compulsive checking, which many people with inattentive ADHD also use as a masking behavior.

Artwork showing a proud pink-haired person next to a child who is upset over a drawing of a dinosaur, with the phrase 'Making Mistakes...' by @the_mini_ADHD_coach.

Struggling with Organization

The ADHD brain has a lot going on - ideas, thoughts, worries. It doesn’t typically organize these thoughts in the more linear way that it does for neurotypicals. It can be pretty chaotic. 

While it can be incredible for creativity, which is often best untamed and wild, it means maintaining clear organization can be a struggle for me. It’s not just thoughts either, it can especially extend to home organization and chores. 🏠

I know many would consider my home chaotic and messy.  

For example, I have a specific chair in my room that always has my fresh clothes dumped on it. At least I know where it is, right? Well, I also tend to throw my dirty clothes on the floor, dangerously close to the clean pile, and they definitely get mixed up from time to time. 😬

When my room is cluttered, it’s stressful. However, due to my tight schedule (I’m always running late!) and my difficulty organizing my thoughts, it always seems to be messy despite my best efforts.

Illustration of a person with pink hair looking worried next to an overflowing dish rack, with the caption 'Struggling with organization...' by @the_mini_ADHD_coach.

Avoiding Difficult Tasks

With anything ADHD-related, you’ll hear the phrase ‘sustained mental effort’ thrown around frequently. 

Tasks that require mental energy can be exhausting when you have inattentive ADHD. You’re essentially trying to force a brain that really doesn’t want to focus to concentrate for long periods without constantly chasing dopamine hits (from distractions). Personally, when I do this, it leads to brain fog and even headaches.

Naturally, when faced with these types of tasks, I’m resistant. If it takes too long for me to finish, or involves a complicated process with lots of steps, I’ll probably procrastinate as long as possible. Procrastination is a huge barrier for those of us with inattentive ADHD symptoms.

When I have no choice but to do the difficult thing, it can test my patience and mental well-being

If a deadline is set for me to pay bills or settle taxes, you can expect me to do them just hours before the due date. This is where we need to find more practical solutions or ask for support.

Drawing of a pink-haired character with a disgruntled expression avoiding a 'TO DO: TAXES!' sign, with the title 'Avoiding Difficult Tasks...' by @the_mini_ADHD_coach.

Losing Or Misplacing Things

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can affect our working memory and the executive functions that are essential in our daily lives. According to a study featured in the American Psychological Association, the short-term memory of a person with ADHD can be impaired, resulting in forgetting things that were just said or losing track of where they put something.

Here's a fun fact about me: I have three pairs of glasses, and, like most people, only have two eyes. No, I’m not living in luxury, I just have a habit of losing them and finding them again later. 

See, my glasses, along with my keys and phone, go missing on an almost daily basis. Most of the time, a sweep of the house will be enough, but sometimes, they’re just missing - until, that is, I buy another pair, and suddenly the old pair decides to turn up, even though I could have sworn I checked there. I had to buy the third pair on a long holiday after I forgot to pack mine. 🧳  

Glasses aren’t cheap. That’s one of the things that contributes to the ADHD tax - all the expenses that add up as a result of our symptoms, like late repayment fees.

Depiction of a pink-haired person looking at a cat sleeping on a couch, with a thought bubble showing a missing shopping list, and the caption 'Losing or Misplacing Things...' by @the_mini_ADHD_coach.

Challenges and Misunderstandings Surrounding Inattentive ADHD

More than ever, everyone’s talking about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). And when it’s done to raise awareness, as many media outlets are, we love to see it. 🙌  

Creating conversation around ADHD diagnosis means those of us with ADHD are more comfortable openly talking about our experiences and struggles with this neurodivergent disorder.👌 This gives others the courage, validation, and knowledge to start their diagnosis journey. 

However, there are still so many ADHD misconceptions and myths circulating both online and offline. Many symptoms, comorbidities, and even entire subtypes are overlooked and less talked about. 

Did you know that when people refer to Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), they're often talking about what is now known as the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD? The American Psychiatric Association updated this terminology in 1987, shifting from ADD to ADHD to capture the condition's full spectrum. Despite this, the term ADD persists in common language, likely due to many people being unaware of the change. 

While some people simply don’t believe in its existence, there are also a lot of people who have simply either never heard of ADHD’s predominantly inattentive type.

Well, inattentive ADHD - we see you! 👋

Day-to-Day Challenges and Stereotypes

Daily life looks a little different with ADHD. The symptoms listed above can have consequences in all areas of life. In school and work settings, being seen as not paying attention or making careless mistakes can affect performance

This can also affect your ability to maintain relationships with friends, family, partners, and coworkers as you struggle to remember important dates or details about their lives - the things that usually show you’re making an effort.  

Many people, as we all know, love to rely on stereotypes, especially when they don’t understand them. Those with inattentive ADHD in particular, might hear ‘ditzy’ or ‘daydreamer’ at best, and ‘lazy’ at worst. When you hear these harmful stereotypes from an early age, especially if you weren’t diagnosed in childhood, it can have a serious impact on self-esteem and self-identity

What some may call ‘laziness’ is an incredibly complex difference in brain structure and functioning that isn’t even fully understood by experts in neuroscience.  

My Personal Diagnosis Story & Challenges

I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was 29, but the signs had been there since childhood

I often struggled with things most people don’t even think about. I had difficulties sustaining interest in things like hobbies or which career path I should take (that one changed a lot). 

I had trouble organizing tasks, like school coursework and homework. And, I’d forget things, a lot. I wasted so much time looking for things I’d misplaced, only for them to be exactly where I started. To the outside world, I may have looked carefree and ‘away with the fairies’ but inside I was anything but carefree. 🧚

Back then, I was confused. I didn’t know why I was different, why I couldn’t do things as easily as everyone else. When I realized how much this was affecting relationships, I knew I needed a solution to whatever this was.

After a bit of research, I reached out to my healthcare provider, who referred me to a mental health professional. As part of the diagnosis process, they had me complete questionnaires, talk about my family history, and explore my past experiences. 

After the assessment, my doctor reviewed the diagnostic criteria and explained everything I needed to know about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. There are nine symptoms of inattention and nine symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity, and a person should meet five or more ADHD symptoms before getting an ADHD diagnosis.

I was diagnosed with a Combined ADHD Type, with both hyperactive and inattentive symptoms. 

After my ADHD diagnosis, I had mixed feelings. I was scared, happy, and relieved simultaneously. For those of us late-diagnosed, there is a bit of a grieving process where you wonder what your life would have been like if you’d known, but this is replaced by a newfound hope that you can now start to make improvements to your life. ☀️

Effective Strategies and Treatments for Managing Inattentive ADHD

ADHD is not a disease or a choice. It’s a neurodevelopmental disorder that, if you choose to, can be diagnosed, treated, and managed - but this is a completely personal choice.

We can turn these ADHD symptoms into positive behaviors or at least manage them in different ways. Also, I want you to know that ADHD doesn't define you, regardless of whether you have the predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation, ADHD inattentive type, or both.

There are different ways to manage inattentive ADHD, but the possible options to treat ADHD from person to person depending on other mental health conditions and comorbidities. Generally, you should ask your healthcare provider about your options and find the ones that suit you best. Some people might need ADHD medications while others may not. Some might benefit from psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, or a combination of both to reduce symptoms of ADHD.

But since you’re already here, let’s explore some helpful tips to manage inattentive ADHD starting today. ⬇️

Be Informed and Educate Yourself About ADHD

Educating yourself on the basics of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can already take you a long way. You don’t know how many myths or misconceptions you might already believe until you start learning the facts. 

The more you know about how it works, and what symptoms are and aren’t ADHD, the more you can be aware of your behaviors and start to manage them better. 

Remember to always get your information from high-quality or trusted sources from people that treat or live with ADHD (like us!) so you can avoid those common misconceptions. 🔍

Develop a Support System

Having people around you who understand your condition, or try to, can help you manage ADHD. These can be friends, family members, or colleagues - anyone who is 100% willing to support you on your ADHD journey.

On a practical level, these people can remind you of your appointments, help you stay on track, and be understanding when things don't go as planned.

Being diagnosed with and living with ADHD can also be incredibly emotional, so having a support system who’ll be there for you in an emotional capacity is essential.  

Create a Routine and Follow It

I get it - routines are hard. 😧But one of the best things you can do to manage inattentive ADHD is to have a routine and stick to it as much as possible. 

Making a to-do list can significantly increase productivity and minimize distractions. When things are written down, you are less likely to forget about them. 📝

Be Open and Honest

There will be moments when you struggle with tasks or zone out of conversations.

When this happens, if you’re in a safe environment, try to be honest and open about it with the people around you. It can be helpful to tell them you are interested, and you do want to listen. This way, you allow them to be more understanding and help you - they can’t do that if you don’t communicate. This also minimizes the chance of them getting offended or you being misunderstood. 🙌

Use ADHD Tools and Applications

If you have access to the internet, you have access to a whole world of tools and apps that can help you manage your symptoms and find ways to work around them. 

There are apps for just about anything: organization, task management, and memory recall, to name just a couple. These tools can be beneficial in keeping track of day-to-day activities. You can find our recommendations for the most convenient ADHD tools to use here.

Keeping the Mind and Body Healthy

According to an article about ADHD & exercise, ‘regular exercise can help to relieve some symptoms of ADHD and improve the executive functions.’ 

While motivating yourself to exercise can be incredibly difficult, it’s truly too beneficial to ignore. Try to incorporate some form of movement, no matter how much or how little, into your daily routine. 🏃‍♀️

Connect with the ADHD Community

When you need to talk to someone who understands what you are going through, reach out to one of the many online and offline support groups for people with ADHD. 🤝

Being part of a community can provide emotional support and helpful tips on better managing your condition. They can also share their authentic stories of how they’ve learned to live with their ADHD, rather than letting it control their life.

Seek Professional Medical Advice

You shouldn’t feel like you need to struggle with your symptoms alone. If you suspect you have the traits of inattentive ADHD or even hyperactive-impulsive symptoms, speak to a mental health professional. Once you’ve received a diagnosis, these ADHD specialists can help you in developing ADHD treatment plans, which may include behavioral therapy or medication. 👩‍⚕️

Be Open to Different Treatments

Your mental health doctor may suggest stimulant medications if you have inattentive ADHD. These are the most widely used medications and can help to improve focus and concentration

Social skills training can also be prescribed to improve interactions with other people and prevent social awkwardness, or even a social anxiety disorder. Behavioral therapy can also be suggested for both adults and children with ADHD. This type of therapy can help you to understand and cope with your condition.

Key Takeaways

  • Inattentive ADHD is characterized by difficulty maintaining focus, following instructions, and organizing tasks. It lacks the overt hyperactivity of other ADHD types, often appearing as daydreaming or not listening.
  • Inattentive type ADHD is diagnosed using the DSM-5 criteria, with inattention-specific symptoms including difficulty sustaining attention, following detailed instructions, making careless mistakes, and being easily distracted.
  • Inattentive ADHD is often misunderstood due to its less visible symptoms, leading to stereotypes such as being labelled as ‘lazy’ or a ‘daydreamer.’ This negativity can result in mental disorders or low self-esteem.
  • Managing your ADHD can look like a combination of professional treatment, education, community, and lifestyle changes (like exercise and diet)

Beyond the thousands of articles and many methods we can use to treat ADHD, the one thing that makes all the difference is our own perception and mindset. What you may lack in organization and time management, you make up for in resilience and creativity. People with ADHD do great things every day, and you can too. 🤗

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does inattentive ADHD feel like?

Inattentive ADHD often feels like being lost in a fog of distractions, where focusing on tasks or conversations feels almost impossible. It's like constantly fighting to keep your attention anchored, only to have it drift away at the slightest breeze.

How do I know if I have inattentive ADHD?

If you frequently find yourself struggling to maintain focus, follow detailed instructions, and organize tasks, or you tend to make careless mistakes and forget daily responsibilities, these could be signs of inattentive ADHD. Consulting a healthcare professional for a formal assessment is the best way to know for sure.

Is it true that a person who does not manifest hyperactivity can still be diagnosed with ADHD?

Yes, it is. Sometimes the hyperactivity doesn’t manifest externally or physically, but rather internally or in the mind. This is another type of ADHD called Predominantly Inattentive Type, which means that while the person can still manifest some level of physical hyperactivity, they mostly exhibit inattention and its related symptoms.

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