What Is ADHD Inattentive Type?

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What Is ADHD Inattentive Type?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the brain’s development and ability to function. An estimated 5% of people around the world live with this condition, which starts in childhood but often persists into adulthood.

ADHD is characterized by two types of symptoms:

  • Symptoms of inattention: These symptoms can make it hard for the person to pay attention or stay organized.
  • Symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity: These symptoms can make it difficult for the person to sit still, causing them to move around constantly. They may have difficulty controlling their impulses and behaviors.

There are three types of ADHD, which are distinguished based on the symptoms the person has:

  • ADHD inattentive type: This type of ADHD is characterized by symptoms of inattention. People with this type of ADHD may have few or no symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. This form of ADHD is sometimes referred to as attention deficit disorder (ADD), although the term ADD is an outdated one that is not used anymore.
  • ADHD hyperactive/impulsive type: This type of ADHD is characterized by symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. People with this type of ADHD may have few or no symptoms of inattention.
  • ADHD combined type: People who have ADHD combined type have symptoms of inattention as well as symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. This is the most common type of ADHD. 

Up to 30% of people with ADHD have inattentive type ADHD. A 2014 study notes that ADHD inattentive type is more subtle than the other types of ADHD, so it can be harder to detect. For instance, students with this type of ADHD may be less disruptive in the classroom than children who also have symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity.

This article explores the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of inattentive type ADHD.

Symptoms of ADHD Inattentive Type

Children or adults with ADHD inattentive type primarily display symptoms of inattention, which include:

  • Having difficulty focusing on tasks at school or work
  • Not paying close attention to detail, which can result in careless mistakes in schoolwork or work assignments
  • Being disorganized, resulting in missed appointments and deadlines
  • Getting distracted easily
  • Leaving tasks such as assignments, chores, or other activities incomplete
  • Frequently losing personal belongings and valuables
  • Forgetting things often
  • Failing to follow through on instructions and appearing not to listen when spoken to directly
  • Avoiding tasks that require sustained focus for longer periods of time

Children and teenagers below the age of 17 need to have at least six of these symptoms, in order to be diagnosed with ADHD inattentive type. Those above the age of 17 need to have had at least five of these symptoms.

In addition to symptoms of inattention, people with ADHD inattentive type may also have a few symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity, which include:

  • Fidgeting, tapping, or squirming while seated
  • Having difficulty remaining seated, in class or at work for instance
  • Pacing, or in children, running around or climbing instead of staying seated
  • Making a lot of noise while playing or participating in leisure activities
  • Constantly feeling restless and being on the go, as though powered by a motor
  • Talking too much
  • Responding to questions before they’re asked, speaking out of turn, or finishing other peoples’ sentences
  • Being unable to wait their turn patiently
  • Interrupting, intruding on, or taking over others’ conversations or activities

Causes of ADHD Inattentive Type

ADHD is characterized by low levels of the chemical dopamine in the brain, as well as lower metabolism levels in areas of the brain that are responsible for attention, impulse control, and movement.

The exact causes of these differences in the brain are unknown; however, these are some factors that may contribute to the development of this condition:

  • Genetic factors: ADHD can be genetically inherited; a child may be more likely to have it if one of their parents or relatives has it.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to environmental toxins may play a role in the development of ADHD. For instance, a 2016 study found that exposure to lead can cause ADHD in children.
  • Early life factors: Premature birth, alcohol or tobacco use during pregnancy, and traumatic events or injuries in early life may contribute to the development of ADHD.

Diagnosing ADHD Inattentive Type

ADHD inattentive type can be diagnosed by a mental healthcare provider such as a psychiatrist or psychologist. A primary care physician, family doctor, or pediatrician can provide a reference to a healthcare provider who specializes in ADHD.

The diagnostic process may involve:

  • A detailed personal and family medical history
  • A standard rating scale or checklist of symptoms and their severity 
  • An interview with the healthcare provider
  • Interviews with the child’s family members or teachers
  • Other psychological tests, blood work, physical exams, or imaging scans required to rule out other conditions or confirm the diagnosis

The healthcare provider will determine whether the person’s symptoms meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD inattentive type laid out in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual:

  • The person has had the symptoms for over six months.
  • The person has had many of the symptoms since before they were 12.
  • The symptoms are present in two or more settings, such as school/work, home, social settings, or while doing other activities.
  • The symptoms significantly interfere with the person’s ability to function.
  • The symptoms are not better explained by another mental health condition.

It’s important to note that a person’s symptoms of ADHD may change over time, as they get older. Therefore, the type of ADHD they have can also change. So, even though they may currently have ADHD inattentive type, that could change in future.

Treating ADHD Inattentive Type

Treatment can help people with ADHD inattentive type manage their symptoms and reduce their difficulties, particularly those related to work or school, where focus is required. Treatment options include medication and therapy.


There are several FDA-approved medications that can treat people ages six and above. These are some of the types of medications that may be prescribed to treat ADHD inattentive type:

  • Stimulants: These are the most widely used medications in the treatment of ADHD. Stimulants work by increasing the levels of the chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, in order to help with attention and cognition.
  • Non-stimulants: These medications take longer to work than stimulants but they can also help with the symptoms of ADHD inattentive type. Non-stimulant medication may be prescribed in combination with stimulants, if stimulants are ineffective, or if stimulants cause too many side effects.
  • Antidepressants: Depending on the person’s symptoms, side effects, and any other health conditions they might have, their healthcare provider may also prescribe antidepressant medication. Antidepressants can be particularly helpful if the person also has a mood or anxiety disorder.


Therapy can help people with ADHD inattentive type improve their focus and manage their condition better. These are some forms of therapy that may be helpful:

  • Behavioral therapy, which helps people monitor and change their behavior.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps people become more aware of their thought processes and teaches them how to improve their focus and concentration.
  • Family and marital therapy, which helps partners and family members learn how to support the person with ADHD inattentive type and improve their interactions with them.
  • Parenting skills training, which is also known as behavioral training for parents. It can teach parents whose children have ADHD how to encourage positive behaviors in their children and discourage negative behaviors.
  • Support groups, which can help people with ADHD and their parents or families connect with others who share their experiences.

Coping With ADHD Inattentive Type

These are some steps that can help people with ADHD inattentive type cope with the condition:

  • Reduce distractions: Switch off the television, maintain a clean workspace, and limit other noises and distractions while trying to work, to help improve focus.
  • Break up lengthy tasks: Tasks that require sustained attention may be daunting for people with ADHD inattentive type. Dividing the task into smaller chunks can make it more manageable.
  • Budget enough time: It can be helpful to start on schoolwork or work assignments in advance, with plenty of activity breaks scheduled in between. 
  • Build a routine: It can be helpful to build and maintain a daily routine, to encourage consistency.
  • Follow a healthy lifestyle: Eat a nutritious diet, get sufficient sleep, and exercise regularly.

A Word From Verywell

ADHD inattentive type is a condition that can make it difficult for a person to focus and concentrate, affecting their performance at work or school. Recognizing the symptoms of this condition and seeking treatment for it can help improve their ability to function on a day-to-day basis.

13 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.