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Inattentive ADHD

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Personal experience informs Mary's perspective on inattentive-type ADHD and the way it can influence life experiences

photo by my hubby

photo by my hubby

Inattentive Type ADHD is an Overlooked but Impairing ADHD Subtype

Inattentive ADHD is a lonely road. I remember listening to an expert--an M.D. with ADHD himself, and a well-known author on the subject--describe the classic ADHD kid: "They're like sports car engines with no brakes." Around the room, parents' heads nodded knowingly. All except mine.

After the talk, I approached the expert: "My son has inattentive type ADHD. So he's not really like a sports car with no brakes. He's more like..." I searched for the right vehicular metaphor: A stalling engine? No accelerator? A winged car that lifts itself clear off the road?

"A butterfly," said the speaker with a smile. And he was right.

The "Butterfly Brain"

In trying to understand different attentional problems, many believe this is a matter of ADD vs ADHD. In a way, those old unofficial classifications were useful -- why the "H" if no hyperactivity is present? -- but medical professionals now categorize the different sets of symptoms as "subtypes" of ADHD. In this article, we'll look at the inattentive subtype of ADHD, which in earlier years may have been commonly called, simply, "ADD."

Just as butterflies alight on plants briefly and then quickly, unpredictably flutter off, the inattentive type ADHD mind won't stay put. It may start out with the best intentions--do the math assignment, listen to the history lecture, fold clothes and put them away--but somehow, something gets in the way. Inattentive ADHD adults can experience this phenomenon just like kids with the condition, but while grappling with adult responsibilities. On top of that, adults with attention deficit disorder that doesn't fit the stereotypical jumpy, overactive mold but involves, instead, an impairing degree of spaciness may not even think to seek a diagnosis, developing instead a harmful self-concept: chronically unmotivated, even lazy.

Often, it's something from within. External distractions--a conversation in the next room, a TV turned on, a quarter on the floor--can all derail attention, but with inattentive type, often the derailing comes from inside the brain itself. Daydreaming and "mind trips" force out whatever the inattentive person is supposed to be paying attention to. The inattentive ADHD mind can be very easily bored, although you'll rarely hear people with this subtype complaining of boredom. Why? They internalize their issues rather than sharing them with the world. And in many cases, they don't even realize they're bored with a subject at hand, because they've moved on to an entirely different one, without having made a conscious choice to do that.

This internal distractibility means that a quiet, organized space for work or homework -- while a good start -- is often not enough for an inattentive ADD person to get the job done. They're up against their own "butterly brain."

Just as butterflies move gently and silently, the inattentive ADD child or adult rarely disrupts anyone. Without hyperactive or impuslve behavior that affects others, inattentive ADD folks don't call attention to themselves, which is why they're often diagnosed later than those with other ADHD subtypes. This late diagnosis is especially common in cases of inattentive ADHD in women, who may only recognize their own symptoms once they have a child going through the diagnosis process. The problem is, inattention can create just as big an academic, social and even safety risk as the better-known problems of hyperactivity and impulsivity -- so it needs to be addressed sooner than later, and with same levels of insight and compassion required for any other disability.

~~ More ~~

This article focuses on inattentive ADHD in girls but is useful for boys and non-binary folks too, and their parents: "Inattentive ADHD is a Quiet Crisis That's Leaving Girls Behind"

Here's a writeup on "ADHD, Inattentive Type in Adults"

But That Description Doesn't Sound like ADHD!

That's right; it doesn't...which is why experts like Russell Barkley, PhD, have suggested inattentive type ADHD might best be split out as its own disorder.

The fact is, inattentive ADHD almost looks like the opposite of hyperactive type or combined type ADHD. Where hyperactive or combined type folks tend to be overactive and disruptive, those with inattentive type are underactive, passive & withdrawn. It's hard to imagine more different types of people, yet they all currently fall under the same diagnostic "umbrella."

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ADHD subtypes, from webmd

CDC fact sheet on ADHD

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Diagnosing Inattentive Type ADHD

The question of ADD vs ADHD can be confusing. In a nutshell, technically speaking, there is no such thing as ADD -- just the inattentive, non-hyperactive subtype of ADHD.That doesn't mean people on the street -- not diagnosticians, just regular folks -- don't continue to use "ADD" colloquially (and confusingly, if they seem to be talking mainly about hyperactivity) to refer to themselves and others.

While some experts have advocated for separating out the inattentive type as its own condition, that didn't happen when the DSM V (the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) was published in 2013. (Update: A new DSM came out in spring 2022, but its revisions don't appear to include ADHD.)

What apparently did happen in 2103 is that a subtype of ADHD was added, "Inattentive Presentation (Restrictive)," for those who meet the criteria for predominantly inattentive ADHD but have no more than 2 of the hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms. (My son would fit this "new" subtype, though I'm not sure what difference that makes.)

To be diagnosed with inattentive type ADHD, you need to demonstrate at least 6 of these symptoms (or 5, if you are an adult) from the DSM. You need to have shown symptoms before age 12 (was age 7 in the DSM IV); they must significantly impair your social, school or work functioning; and (this is important) the symptoms must be present in more than one setting -- e.g., school AND home or work AND home, not just school or just work or just home.

  • Lack of attention to detail; careless mistakes at school, work, activities
  • Trouble keeping attention on tasks or play activities
  • Seeming not to listen when directly spoken to
  • Failure to finish schoolwork, work responsibiltiies, chores, etc. -- NOT due to lack of understanding or to oppositional behavior
  • Trouble organizing activities
  • Avoidance of sustained mental effort (e.g., with schoolwork)
  • Frequent loss of items needed for tasks/activities
  • Easily distractible
  • Forgetful in day-to-day activities

With inattentive ADD, these symptoms aren't combined with hyperactivity or impulsive behavior. Also, the symptoms can't be better explained by another disorder such as PDD/autistic spectrum disorder, anxiety disorder, mood disorder, etc.

~~ More ~~ -- signs of inattention in ADHD

DSM V criteria for ADHD, including Predominantly Inattentive type

Foolers: Rule These Out!

A first step in the process of seeking the correct diagnosis is remember that ADD vs ADHD is a false question. Hyperactivity does not need to be present for an ADHD diagnosis. When it's not, but there are other, significantly impairing attentional problems over several domains (home, school, work, social situations...), you could be dealing with inattentive-type ADHD.

While there is no simple inattentive ADHD test, keep in mind that there are "fooler" conditions that often can be tested for in a relatively clear-cut manner. These other problems can mask as inattentive type ADHD, so it's important to rule them out first, as we did when our son (now a young adult) was younger. (A neuropsychologist evaluated our son for ADHD and was able to rule out anxiety disorders. But before that, we consulted with his pediatrician, 2 audiologists, and a neurologist specializing in seizure disorders to rule out the other potential "foolers." Phew!)

  • Chronic inadequate sleep can look just like ADHD. If the person in question is not getting 8 hours (ages 18 & up), 9 hours (ages 10-17), 10 hours (ages 5-10) or 12 hours (ages 3-5), don't even think of asking the doctor about ADHD. Ask instead how to help them meet their sleep needs. Getting more sleep can be a simple as turning off all electronics and lowering house lights an hour before bed, or getting more exercise during the day so you fall asleep faster. Sometimes, it requires a lifestyle change like cutting down extracurriculars and even homework. Work with the doctor to get there, and when you do, see if that makes a difference in inattentive symptoms. Can ADHD cause insomnia? Yes! So if a serious, sustained attempt at better sleep hygiene and appropriate lifestyle adjustments don't increase sleep per night, it's possible that ADHD is causing the inadequate sleep, not vice versa.
  • Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland, can create the sluggish or foggy demeanor often seen with inattentive ADD. A simple blood test will confirm or deny.
  • Absence seizures show up as staring spells that last a few seconds, sometimes (but not always) with fluttering eyelids and a nodding head. This is what our son's school nurse believed he was experiencing as a young child, but 2 EEGs ruled it out.
  • A hearing issue can make someone less responsive -- they're not answering 'cause they're not hearing the question, or not hearing it well. This is especially worth checking out for kids who've had chronic ear infections.
  • Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD): This is an ear-brain coordination issue that makes it hard for kids to process what they've heard, especially if there's any kind of background noise (e.g., reality). An audiologist can evaluate for this, but not 'til around age 7.
  • Anxiety: This is a tough one. Does ADHD cause anxiety? It certainly can. But this can also work in the other direction: Anxiety can cause inattention, especially the "internalized" type that is characteristic of inattentive ADHD. It's hard to focus when you're chronically anxious. So what looks like ADD could be anxiety instead. On the other hand, a genuinely inattentive child who's getting chastised a lot for not paying attention, not keeping up, etc., can develop anxiety because of all this negative feedback and the bad feeling of being behind, or out of it. This kind of anxiety is "secondary" to his or her attention problems. How to tell the difference? This is why doctors get the big bucks. It's important to have a specialist sort this out, as treatment approaches may be different for primary than secondary anxiety.
  • Autistic Spectrum Disorder: This is, potentially, an even tougher one! When parents ponder ADHD vs autism for their challenged young children, it's often inattentive type symptoms of ADHD they're dealing with. Many children diagnosed on the autistic spectrum also meet the criteria for other diagnoses, and ADHD is one of the most common. A child with inattentive (or other subtype) ADHD symptoms who also exhibits a strong need for sameness, perseveration on one toy or activity, sensory sensitivities and other challenges that seem to go beyond attentional issues should receive a full evaluation for Autistic Spectrum Disorder. ASD kids can benefit tremendously from early intervention, so sorting this out sooner rather than later is well worth the effort.
  • While not quite a "fooler condition" in the same way the above diagnoses can be, there is some evidence that childhood trauma can cause symptoms of inattention, as well as more externally disruptive ADHD type symptoms like hyperactivity and impulsivity.
  • Long covid brain fog is a still-mysterious condition that, along with other long covid symptoms, is garnering more research. With an estimated 75 percent of U.S. kids 17 and under having contracted covid by February 2022, per CDC research, it's not impossible that attentional issues may be part of the longer-term picture for some kids who've had covid--though it's also possible that, in the same way that childhood covid cases can be very different from adult cases, very few kids will develop long covid brain fog or other long-hauler symptoms. Still, the kind of attention problems that might arise would, it seems, look a whole lot like inattentive-type ADHD. (If effective brain fog treatment can emerge from the unfortunate phenomenon of long covid, that could help this subset of ADHD folks too.)

Please note, while all of these conditions can masquerade as inattentive-type ADHD, they can also coexist right alongside it. Because there is no simple test for attention deficit disorder, and no one-size-fits-all treatment plan, qualified professionals should help piece the puzzle together step by step, in terms of both diagnosis and treatment options.

Ruled out the key foolers, and have that ADHD diagnosis in hand from a qualified professional? Remember, you/your child is are not alone on this journey. While an exact attention deficit disorder percentage of the population worldwide is hard to track down, a 2015 meta-analysis of research studies suggests a figure of 7.2% of the global population ages 18 and under (that's well over 100 million kids), plus a smaller but still significant 3.4% of adults worldwide, are affected by an attention deficit disorder. (I'm bad at math, so don't quote me on this, but based on Pew population figures that probably equates to at least 176 million grown folks. So, again--not alone!)

~~ poll ~~

Processing Speed Problems

"Processing speed" is how quickly we react to incoming inforrmation, understand it, think about it, and respond to it. Processing speed and intelligence are two different things. A very bright person can be a slow processor of information. This problem can be mainly visual, mainly auditory, or both -- and it's commonly (though not always) seen with inattentive ADHD. Processing speed problems are hard to remediate, even with ADHD medication, so patience, understanding, and appropriate accommodations are important.

~~ More ~~

Study abstract on processing speed and inattentive ADHD

"Tortoise" gifted kids with processing speed problems

Sluggish Cognitive Tempo

I admit, I have a hard time understanding how this newer descriptive term differs from the concept of slow processing, but basically, with Sluggish Cognitive Tempo, slow processing seems to fall into a broader profile of mental "sluggishness" or foginess. Lethargy, daydreaming, staring, and even sleepiness are seen with SCT, which is not to be confused with the old-school, insensitive "slow" euphemism for intellectual challenges.

Researchers are still trying to figure out whether SCT is a subset of inattentive ADHD (in other words, a subtype of a subtype!), affecting 30 to 50% of inattentive ADHDers, or its own distinct condition.

Limited studies have shown kids with SCT are more at risk for anxiety symptoms, even disorders, and possibly depression. They can appear to lack motivation in everything from mundane tasks to maintaining friendships. Their minds tend to be "underaroused," but like the broader ADHD population they can get very engaged in an activity that stimulates them.

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Summary of a study suggesting sluggish cognitive tempo is not a subtype of ADHD

Study abstract on sluggish cognitive tempo, ADHD & anxiety

Problems with Working Memory

Some experts believe the core underlying problem in inattentive ADHD could be a deficit in working memory -- the "mental clipboard" we employ to store and use info within a very short period of time. Examples would be mental arithmetic, where we hold numbers in our brain long enough to add them and say or write the answer, or repeating a phone number we've just been given.

Our experience: When our son had just read from a textbook and was supposed to be answering questions but was stalled out or staring, it was hard to know whether he was having trouble retrieving & using what he'd just read (working memory), processing the info (processing speed), or daydreaming.

Studies show that working memory problems are more commonly linked with inattentive ADHD symtpoms than with hyperactivity or impulsivity. Working memory problems also tend not to respond much to stimulant medications commonly used for ADHD. On the positive side, working memory "training" (including computerized methods) is showing some promise.

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Attention vs. working memory

A workout for working memory

Analysis of inattentive ADHD that argues working memory is its primary deficit

Social Issues

Some experts say inattentive type ADHDers have fewer social difficulties than their peers with hyperactive or combined type, because they don't do disruptive things like blurting out answers in class; interrupting conversations; breaking rules in a game or activity; and generally being fidgety, grabby, impatient & loud.

Others say inattentive ADHDers are more at risk of long-term social problems because they tend to be (especially those with the "Sluggish Cognitive Tempo" profile) socially withdrawn, which makes it hard to form & maintain friendships. (The question of ADHD vs autism sometimes comes up in this context; while this chart is problematic in some ways -- listing advanced verbal skills in the autism column, for instance, when that's a common trait only on the Asperger's end of the spectrum -- it's a useful discussion starter to bring to a professional.) They also tend to be passive, which means that the "work" of a friendship may be carried more by the other person, which can get tiring and over time make the friendship seem less worthwhile. From a practical standpoint, it can also be frustrating to have a friend who constantly spaces out in conversation, forgets to take his/her turn in a game, etc.

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Study: Social Functioning in Inattentive and Combined Types

What Can You Do About Inattentive ADHD?

Inattentive ADHD treatment is a challenge, arguably more so than the other subtypes. Here are a few things to try:

  • Cover the basics: Adequate sleep makes a world of difference, as does regular aerobic exercise. It's not an overstatement to say that both sleep and exercise function as medication for ADHD...without the potential side effects. For ADHD and exercise to work well together, a fitness program should ideally prioritize morning activity, include types of movement that are both rhythmic and aerobic (e.g., running, swimming, brisk walking), rotate among activities that challenge both mind and body to bust boredom, and build in self-accountability, flexibility, and reasonable minimum and maximum goals for how much and how often to get moving. Not only is an ADHD exercise program great for focus and stress management in and of itself, but it can also improve sleep problems that can create or exacerbate daytime inattention.
  • As with other ADHD subtypes, medications can help, although inattentive ADHD medication can be a real puzzle. ADHD meds for adults are somewhat less challenging than for kids, because adults are more adept at describing symptom relief (if any) and side effects (if any) to their doctors. Still, regardless of patient age, finding the right one can take time and usually involves trial and error. You need a good doctor--preferably a psychiatrist (or child/adolescent psychiatrist, for patients under 18) with plenty of experience in treating ADHD--to guide you through this process. Opinions differ on whether inattentive type ADHD responds as well to stimulants as the other subtypes, with some experts saying it doesn't. When it does respond, that often happens at lower doses of medication than with other ADHD subtypes. The "start low, go slow" (with careful dosage increases) idea is smart with any subtype, but perhaps especially with inattentive ADHD. ADHD medication side effects such as loss of appetite, headache and jitterniness are not uncommon, so finding the lowest effective dose is important. Some inattentive ADHD folks will find nonstimulant medications helpful, either alone or in conjunction with stimulants. Among nonstimulant ADHD meds for adults, atomoxetine may be the most promising, according to this rather technical writeup on a meta-analysis of medications for adults, adolescents and children. Some are committed to treating ADHD without medications, but perhaps a larger number of patients who arrive at this approach will do so after trying meds in combination with lifestyle strategies, talk therapy, coaching and/or other non-pharmaceutical tools.
  • ~ Kids/teens who truly fit the diagnostic criteria for inattentive ADHD will need specialized help at school through a 504 plan, which provides for accommodations such as seating near teachers, extended test time and homework modification; and/or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which sets specific goals for the student, pairs these with appropriate services and supports, and states how progress toward goals will be measured. Most schools will require a formal ADHD (or other) diagnosis before developing a 504 and/or IEP with the student & family.
  • Behavioral techniques at school and home are almost always needed, even when medication is helpful, to help manage responsibilities. Teachers and parents should work together to help kids break tasks down into component parts, plan & execute each part, and celebrate successful completion. Over time, kids can take more and more responsibility for this planning and execution, but remember that as kids mature, school and life demands increase, so independence is a "moving target." Some with inattentive ADHD may need tutoring, coaching or other assistance well into adolescence and adulthood, or even indefinitely, as research suggests the vast majority of kids do not outgrow ADHD as adults and b) inattention tends to be more persistent over time than hyperactivity and impulsivity, which often resolve through brain maturation. (Put these studies together and you'll suspect, as I do, that inattentive ADHD in adults is much more common than we've been led to believe.)
  • The connection between diet and ADHD is not as well studied as medications and other therapies, but it can be argued that high-omega choices like salmon, nuts and avocado belong on a list of ADHD foods that help tame symptoms, generally in conjunction with other interventions. Because these foods are great for health overall, this is a "might help, won't hurt" measure well worth trying. Tip: For a quick, short-term burst of focus, try orange juice, which delivers a hit of natural sugar for brain function plus a sour taste on the palate that is "awakening" for many.
  • Touted ADHD supplements can be iffy, sometimes risking effects on thyroid function and other key aspects of health, but there has been some speculation on L-Tyrosine for improving memory and cognition. (Per this Shape article, it's apparently gained a foothold on TikTok as "over-the-counter Adderall," sigh.) Increasing high Tyrosine foods in your diet -- e.g., salmon, chicken breast, ground turkey, skirt steak for the omnivores; milk, nonfat yogurt, lowfat ricotta for vegetarians; starchy beans, lentils, split peas for the vegans -- and seeing if your attention and stress-resistance in mentally challenging situations improve would be an easy way to test this out. Here are more ideas on Tyrosine foods for all diets.

Remember, medical treatment options can't be explored in earnest until an appropriate diagnosis is made. This can be especially difficult for inattentive ADHD women (who tend to be among the most underdiagnosed groups) without a history of being "disruptive" who have muddled through life, perhaps way more stressed out than they need to be. Seeking the help you've long known, deep inside, that you need is an important self-care measure in and of itself.

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See this piece for more info on diet and ADHD

Here's a discussion of ADHD and sleep

You might also be interested in this study on ADHD and exercise

Go here for a useful ADHD medications chart featuring FDA-approved stimulants and non-stimulants

These tips on reducing ADHD medication side effects are helpful for all ages

ADHD meds for adults are covered in this overview of adult symptoms and treatments

Fish oil benefits for ADHD are still being debated, but here's a writeup of what's been found

Treating ADHD Without Medications

If ADHD medication side effects are a major worry, or a proven deterrent for you or your loved one, the idea of treating ADHD without medications might have strong appeal. It should be noted that even with medication, non-medication strategies are part of almost any successful ADHD intervention plan. They work in partnership with medication to create optimal results. Take medication out of the equation and the entire responsibility for improvement rests on non-med strategies. So these are worth thoughtful exploration and sustained effort, to see what helps and what doesn't--all of which will be highly variable and individualized.

Although it's a few years old and focuses ostensibly on adults, I like this doctor-penned summary quite a bit. It describes research-based components of treating ADHD without medications, including talk therapy (especially cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT), mindfulness strategies such as meditation, sleep, nutrition, creating structure, enlisting good partners (my son's doctor once pointed out that people, such as a particularly astute teacher, can function "like medication" when appropriately deployed) and brain-boosting activities such as high-intensity exercise. Virtually all of these approaches can be customized for children and teens as well as adults. You can also try the dietary approaches listed in the section above.


Inattentive ADHD is arguably the least covered subtype of this disorder. However, beyond what I've discussed here, there is decent general information online about inattentive ADHD in children. For more specialized takes:

This ADD vs ADHD slideshow -- or, more accurately in terms of today's medical terminology, a slideshow on inattentive vs other types of ADHD -- is a useful, non-overwhelming educational tool for families, educators, and (if age-appropriate) those with the diagnosis themselves.

To help clear up confusion on ADD vs ADHD, check out this explanation from WebMD

For the actual attention deficit disorder DSM 5 criteria, showing inattentive and other subtypes, go here

This writeup discusses inattentive AHDD in girls -- why it's often missed, and what the consequences are of missing it.

Here's a look at inattentive ADHD in adults.

Seeking an online test for attention deficit disorder? While medically reviewed, this one supposedly focuses on inattentive type, though some of the quiz questions are puzzling--e.g., the one about purchasing un-neeeded items beyond one's budget.

In terms of inattentive ADHD medication, here is a brief rundown of three non-stimulant medications worth consideration, if a decision to try meds has been made and stimulants have either not worked or do not appeal.

Want to reduce ADHD medication side effects like headaches, upset stomach, sleep problems and more? See these tips.

If those ADHD medication side effects are just too intense to overcome, here's a list of approaches on how to treat ADHD without medications.

For more information on inattentive ADHD in women, go here.

On a global level, this is quite specific, but I found it interesting and you might too: In Africa, inattentive type ADHD is actually more prevalent than other types, according to this 2020 analysis.

Are you, your spouse or your child diagnosed with inattentive ADHD? How have you managed it? What's helped, what hasn't? Please share your experience!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Mary


Canterburybelle on January 13, 2014:

I have 3 kids with adhd but only one with the inattentive type. He also has speech and language issues as well as atypical it can be hard to know which symptoms are from which condition. I know that getting enough sleep and taking dha both helped him a lot. He was not staying in bed at night or even in his room, but was up all through the night, from frear, worry, anxiety and compulsive thoughts, and general insomnia, and this made his attention, motivation, and focus SOOO bad during the day. I homeschool him, and school became ridiculouslyhard because he had about 1/4 second of listening, focus, and attention, and absolutely zero willingness to expend energy at his schoolwork-for example to apply a writing instrument to paper, let alone move it. Finally, I started sleeping outside his door to make sure he wasn't up all night, roaming the house, watching tv while the rest of the house slept, and I took him off wheat, and added dha and acidophilus. Those things alone made all the difference. His focus and concentration became better than I'd ever seen in him and he actually began to show initiative and will, which he'd always lacked, being a very passive, lethargic, "tired" person who didn't start things and didn't finish them. He started responding in conversations, and speaking more clearly as well. I am all for the natural, no side effect interventions.

JustineKnott on January 04, 2014:

Spot on! Excellent source of information, on a little understood condition.

anonymous on October 31, 2013:

Thank you so very much for writing this lens!!!!! It describes my son perfectly. He was diagnosed 2 days ago, so I'm still reeling from the information and how to help him.

Mary (author) from Chicago area on June 18, 2013:

@anonymous: Thanks Jaq! Inattentive-type ADHD sort of "flies under the radar" -- but it can be quite impairing.

anonymous on June 17, 2013:

This is a condition I had never heard of before. Thank you for so thoroughly explaining both the challenges of it and the solutions. Glad your son is doing better. :)

Mary (author) from Chicago area on June 15, 2013:

@adammuller003 lm: ps - Adam -- re. ADHD and the school system, have you heard of Leelanau School, targeted mainly at kids with ADHD? I wrote this after interviewing its ed director: -- and it follows the connections theme, too, as I focused on how ADHD kids can benefit from connecting with each other

Mary (author) from Chicago area on June 15, 2013:

@HSP Connections: It seems people with inattentive ADHD are often introverts (not sure if you'd describe yourself that way or not), drawing energy from time alone that they can then use when they're around other people. This is definitely true of my son. Working at home can fit that profile well, as does that wonderful flexibility you mention -- breaking up workload into cognitively manageable chunks, alternating activities that use different parts of the brain....

There are some risks of working at home, though. It can be super distracting if you don't have the discipline to get X amount done per day. It's almost impossible to care properly for young kids at home while logging significant at-home work hours unless you work mostly at night, which is not so great for physical and mental health. It can be *too* isolating if you don't make sure to get yourself out & interacting IRL, at least for short periods. And few can pay all their bills through at-home work -- unless they're home based but on a salary, not freelance/independent.

Interesting about "the zone." The only time I see that in my son is when it's an activity of his choosing, that he's passionate about. (You probably know the ADD literature supports that -- prolonged focus in areas of passion.) Occasionally, that aligns with a school project, such as a report he did on "conflict minerals" (see But mostly it happens with things unrelated to school, like editing a stop-action movie he made with his brother and composing some music for it. I think it's going to be key to help him find work that is at least somewhat related to what he's passionate about and "wired" to do, brain-wise....and will allow him to eat & have a roof over his head. I know -- that's what everyone wants! "Job of the Month Club" could certainly be part of his future, but if that happens, I guess I would just try to help him learn from the jobs that didn't work out...the good, bad & ugly of each ... and look for patterns that could lead to a better situation. I joke sometimes that now if you're 25 and stuck in a crappy job, you can write an indie movie about it and sell it at Sundance. lol!

Mary (author) from Chicago area on June 15, 2013:

@adammuller003 lm: Ned Hallowell is a good source on ADHD and the importance of connections: -- actually I think what he says is good advice for raising any kid, tho esp important for kids with neuro challenges.

I have an inattentive ADD history myself (sounds like you are, or were, much more the hyper/impulsive or combined type that is much more prominent in the research & literature) and got punished for losing homework, daydreaming, playing with my shoelaces during kindergarten "lesson," etc. I am in my 40s, and those were bad years to have ADD...not that there are any really great years for it! So there clearly are different ways of "getting in trouble" at school due to ADD/ADHD, but none of them are a happy experience.

The whole "bad kid" idea is so tricky. Kids act out in school for so many reasons -- ADD, anxiety, problems at home, boredom if they're underchallenged (this is what our first neuropsychologist thought was the problem, as my son did so well on all the IQ type testing, but I knew it wasn't the whole issue) ... etc. And then there are some kids who really don't have these sorts of problems and are just being jerks. I don't envy teachers the job of having to figure out who is who, in this regard. But I guess that's what IEPs are for...

Re. your question on taking school out of the equation: An important part of the DSM criteria, and one that a lot of people seem to forget, is that to truly have ADD/HD, your symptoms have to be portable. They have to follow you from one environment to another. If they are ONLY happening at school, then something about school is the problem, not ADD. If they are ONLY happening at home, then something about home is the problem, not ADD. My son is, and has been since a very very young age, symptomatic of inattentive ADD at home, school, social situations, etc. Not just school. But spacing out at school affects one's future in a way that, say, spacing out at a party really doesn't (unless you space out at a party in a way that compromises your safety -- something else for parents to lose sleep over). The other thing that makes school/HW spaceouts more stressful is the sheer volume of time my kid spends in school + doing HW. He doesn't space out playing his guitar, building a home for ants in our garden, or drawing a picture, but because school hours are long & HW takes him so long, his time to do these things is very limited. Homeschooling could be a solution, but I think that would be hard on our (his & my) relationship; I would not want to abandon the work I do from home, both paid and volunteer, which is important to me; my son's high school has resources that I could never duplicate at home, especially in the art and science areas; and I've always thought it was important for his development to learn from a variety of adults, with a variety of approaches and personalities.

Overall, parents of accurately diagnosed inattentive-ADHD kids are going to worry, I think, about "3 Ss": school, social, and safety. Without sharing too much more about my son -- who might not love having a detailed life story published online ;) -- I would say this describes my concerns. I can't really put "percentages" to this stuff, though; my mind just doesn't work that way.

Peter Messerschmidt from Port Townsend, WA, USA on June 13, 2013:

@verymary: Starting to work from home has been one of the best experiences for me, as far as maximizing my productivity goes... I actually have four distinct businesses, and I "go to work" at each one in short "segments" (unless a major project is at hand) and use timers (good tip, by the way) as motivation for sticking to things. So I do something for 45 minutes... and then I'm "cooked." But I leave it, and then go do something else that's cognitively different for an hour.

I suppose you can say that I have created ways to work WITH who I am and how my brain functions, rather than against. As a writer, I'm good at "articles" but the idea of writing a "book" causes me instant dread and overwhelm... and yet? I write on the order of a MILLION words a year, which is enough for 8 good-length books. I love a platform like Squidoo, because I can create something "by module" and then go away.

Conversely, I SUCKED at working in a regular workplace... and was a pathological members of the "Job of the Month Club," without really having a deeper unstanding of WHY.

I don't know if this applies to your son, or whether there's even neurological research done on this... but if I can force myself to focus on some "large task" for 3-4 hours... I can continue to work it effortlessly for 12, by FAR surpassing the concentration of anyone I know, ADD or not. It's like I pass through a "wall" after which I hit "the zone" and am unstoppable.

adammuller003 lm on June 10, 2013:

@verymary: Thank you for your response!

MUSIC! When I found my Dad's acoustic guitar hidden away in some closet at 15, my life changed. It's been a source of so much for me, and it's cool your son's taking a liking. My senior year of high school I took choir, and those kids were different than most in my school...they were kind, and the "too-cool-for-school" wasn't so prominent. Music has been an invaluable way for me to explore so much of others, our culture, and myself.

I identify when you mention your son noticing that a lot of the other kids in the lower level classes don't care, disrespect the teacher, etc. Are those other kids there b/c of not completing their homework? Or causing trouble in class?

I guess where I am going is, I got in a lot of "trouble" when I was a kid. I couldn't stay in my seat, I wanted to socialize with others, I would always be talking when the teacher was talking, etc. For my entire 5th grade year, I had to have a note sent home to my mother every single day summing up how I did that day.

ALL that to say, I was always lumped in with other kids who were kind of trouble-makers (disrespecting the teacher, not caring, etc.) It was confusing for methat I was always associated with the "bad" kids. In retrospect, I felt like I was "bad" because I was always associated with the "bad" kids. BUT I was just wanting connection! I was wanting to be social b/c of how much meaning it gave me.

The schooling--

(You're right, all this stuff could support their own Squidoo lens!)

I am pushing around the themes of ADHD, the current school system, and how humans make meaning.

I have a question:

If you took school out of the equation, how much of your son's ADHD would be problematic for his life? 20%? 50%? More? Less?

Another: (Genuinely)

It seems like much of the setbacks your son has encountered with his ADHD has come surrounding school. With that in mind, when your son has problems with school stuff, how much of it feels crucially important for his development and learning? 20%? 50%? More? Less?

Mary (author) from Chicago area on June 09, 2013:

@adammuller003 lm: Hi Adam -- great questions! I'll try to answer without writing a novel :) -- though each of these topics could easily be its own Squidoo page...

**With lots of parent advocacy** I would say yes, teachers have been mostly accommodating, but some more than others. One year, his 2 main teachers truly did not get it, and that was awful. High school has been great, knock wood, so far. He's got an A average and is a quiet but fairly confident student. The drawback to his inattentive ADD is that he's had to take many classes at lower levels than he's really capable of, to control the homework volume -- since his pacing on HW is much slower than typical students.' If he wants decent sleep and "a life," he needs to control that volume. Sometimes he complains that the other students in those levels don't care much about learning, disrespect the teacher, etc....all stuff that would happen less in honors classes. So that's a bummer, but what can you do?

One important, ongoing accommodation is double time for exam completion, but that has improved. He gets many tests done now in 1.5x time or less, which is major progress. Quality of work is never his problem; it is volume and pacing of output.

Socially, he is a natural introvert, so he's fine with a couple of good friends. That hasn't changed much. He also gets along very well with his brothers, who are only 18 mos. younger, and their friends, and can join in "the pack" easily when comfortable. I would like to see him branch out a bit more socially, but it's not something a parent can really force. He is a good guitarist and hopes to get involved with a jazz ensemble soon. There is also a service club at school that helps younger kids in an urban school learn their instruments, so I'm going to encourage him to join that. He'd be great at it, and I figure the other teens who do that are probably going to be pretty nice kids, as well as musical (obviously) like my son.

Does he feel happy? Interesting question, He is a quiet person and not very demonstrative, so it isn't always easy to gauge his emotions. However, he has always been a (quietly) optimistic person and still seems to be. He has always been one of the most balanced people I know. In some ways I feel he is more "emotionally mature" than many of the adults I know, yet he seems younger than same-age peers in terms of what most people think of as "life skills." People like having him in their homes (friends' parents, relatives etc.) because he's a calm, positive presence. I truly believe the world would be better with a lot more people like him, but things don't seem to be going in that direction. Instead, people are rushing even more, multitasking even more, looking for shortcuts, dreaming of their own reality shows lol. All the stuff that's the opposite of my son. Not sure what will happen, so we just have to keep helping in whatever ways seem to be needed and make sense. One step at a time.

Thanks for asking!

adammuller003 lm on June 08, 2013:


Wow. Thank you for sharing. I appreciated this lens a lot. You mention your son is doing a lot better, and now 15! What was his experience growing up with teachers? Did they accommodate for his innattentive adhd? Did he do okay in school? You mention he didn't pursue much socially beyond his immediate family. Did that change? And does he feel happy now?

Thank you for your time, and I appreciated your lens.

Mary (author) from Chicago area on April 12, 2013:

@Aunt-Mollie: thank you!

Aunt-Mollie on April 10, 2013:

Sharing your personal experience here will help many people. I think your son is very blessed to have such a wonderful mother.

criysto lm on April 08, 2013:

Great lens with a lot of information. I have known many people that have inattentive ADHD. Thanks for giving me more knowledge on the subject.

Mary (author) from Chicago area on February 19, 2013:

@HSP Connections: I like how you've handled it. It is possible to train oneself into a more functional mode, like you have done, though it sounds like the underlying condition is lifelong, more often than not. I had to laugh at your "make the turn" anecdote, as my inattentive-ADD son has been learning to drive since last summer, and that is him all over!

Peter Messerschmidt from Port Townsend, WA, USA on February 06, 2013:

Excellent lens! I relate to so many of these things... it's a tough "variant" to live with; it's been with me all my life (I'm 52) and for the longest time, I couldn't identify with conventional descriptions of ADD/ADHD because I never experienced any kind of "manic" or hyperactive phases... I just quietly drift off. The "processing speed" issue has always been a biggie... in grade school my IQ tested in the 157-163 range yet my "slowness" baffled everyone. The feeling is so alien to people when I describe it... as an analogy, I am *instantly* aware that there are no cars coming at an intersection, but it takes me FOREVER to connect "no cars coming" with "make the turn" if that makes sense... I have taught myself to be highly functional through an elaborate system of "functional distractions;" that is, when I do drift away I drift to "something else that needs doing," rather than into thin air...

anonymous on January 26, 2013:

@anonymous: Hi, I'm 34 and have started medication after being diagnosed. So far nothing as been working good or the side effects or too great. It's a very long process, patience is key.

lakern26 lm on December 10, 2012:

I have two boys with ADHD---one inattentive, one hyperactive---both diagnosed just last year. It has been a frustrating, anxious, and exhausting ride. Of the two forms, we've definitely found the inattentive to be the most difficult to understand and we've all been struggling to cope. After all, how can my husband and I help him when we don't quite get it ourselves? This information you've provided here will make that easier; a lot of it fits my son to a tee. So thank you very, very much for jotting it all down and putting it out there---I look forward to putting some of your suggestions into practice.

anonymous on November 13, 2012:

@RachelDillin: I feel like I have struggled with this disorder all of my life. I am now 30, and its seems to be getting worse everyday. I was wondering what kind of medication you started taking and if it helped at all. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

anonymous on August 27, 2012:

@RachelDillin: I'm wondering which meds work best for adults with sluggish cognitive tempo

terrym2442 on May 05, 2012:

Excellent! I just pinned this on Pinterest, too.

Mary (author) from Chicago area on May 03, 2012:

@RachelDillin: Hope you get some symptom relief! Best wishes.

Oneshotvariety LM on May 02, 2012:

Great lens.

Oneshotvariety LM on May 02, 2012:

Great lens.

River_Rose on May 01, 2012:

Proper diet and get rid of toxins. Eat organic,no junk food and no additives.

River_Rose on May 01, 2012:

Proper diet and get rid of toxins. Eat organic,no junk food and no additives.

RachelDillin on April 30, 2012:

I was just diagnosed with this as an adult. I am waiting to start medication to see if it helps.

RachelDillin on April 30, 2012:

I was just diagnosed with this as an adult. I am waiting to start medication to see if it helps.

enjoyecigs on April 27, 2012:

Wow, amazing lens! Thanks for posting!

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