Parenting / 3 November, 2022 / Sarah Templeton

What is Inattentive ADHD And Why Is It So Hard To Spot?

Before we get started, it’s important to know there are three categories of ADHD which are diagnosed in this country:

  • ADHD primarily Hyperactive/Impulsive which was traditionally thought to be seen in boys.
  • ADHD primarily Inattentive, which was thought to apply to girls.
  • ADHD Combined type, as the name suggests, is a combination of the other two categories.

What I have found in 10 years working with thousands of ADHD clients, is there are just as many boys with Inattentive ADHD as there are girls. My own family is a good example of why this outdated view that Inattentive ADHD is ‘just for girls’ really needs to be assigned to the dustbin. I am a female diagnosed with Combined ADHD and I have a brother diagnosed with ADHD Inattentive type.

So, we first need to accept girls fall into all three categories and a proper diagnosis is needed to see which category they fall into. But for this article, let’s look at the traits of Inattentive ADHD which are more easily overlooked.

Traits of Inattentive ADHD

Inattentive ADHD children are often thought to be ‘in their own world’ or ‘away with the fairies.’ That certainly summed up my brother, both as a child and now at 48.


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Inattentive ADHD kids spend a lot of their time distracted, not focusing and concentrating, especially in class and yet are very busy in their own heads thinking of much more exciting things. They also tend to procrastinate and lack motivation. The vast majority also lack hyperactivity, so the H in ADHD doesn’t apply to them. A lot feel they are underachievers because they have lots of ideas, but rarely follow them through. This can lead to feelings of low self-worth and sometimes crippling low self-esteem.

Brain fog

Inattentive ADHD children and adults often struggle with what is known as ‘brain fog.’ They describe trying to do anything as being ‘as difficult as walking through treacle.’ Everything takes great effort. This category of ADHD often gets labelled as ‘lazy’ and ‘just not trying.’ Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. A lot of time they are trying harder than anybody else, but their very strong Inattentive ADHD traits hold them back.

Struggling with school

Inattentive kids often struggle at school because their brain fog can make them slower at understanding what teachers mean and slower at doing the actual work. A lot of these children will need a reasonable adjustment of more time to finish assignments, projects and in particular exams. Their brain fog means that they can be extremely bright but come across as slow when it comes to processing the information.

Inattentive ADHD people often struggle hugely with procrastination. They may know what needs doing, and be prepared to do it, but their brain fog, and the Inattentive traits of ‘procrastination’ and ‘lack of motivation’ mean propelling themselves into action is sometimes just impossible.

Difficulties making friends

Inattentive ADHD children often struggle to make friends because they aren’t naturally effervescent, bubbly, friendly and warm. They could be inside their own heads, but they struggle to show this, so some end up lonely and lacking friendships. Some also suffer with social anxiety, making dealing with people difficult right from childhood.

Inability to get things done

Parents, who don’t understand Inattentive ADHD struggle hugely to understand why these kids don’t get on with things! This can be anything from getting out of bed, to getting dressed, to brushing their teeth or getting ready for school. They can literally procrastinate and take forever to do the most basic of tasks because their brain just isn’t finding it stimulating enough.

Inattentive ADHD is difficult to identify

Inattentive ADHD kids are much more difficult to identify than the other two categories. They won’t be shouting out in class impulsively, they won’t be bashing into people as they run round the playground, they won’t be back-chatting to teachers and making it very obvious that they are different. Instead, they tend to blend beautifully into the background. They aren’t normally chatty and talkative, they’re usually very well-behaved in class so the first indicators you are going to see of Inattentive ADHD is their permanent state of distraction. These kids take distraction to a new level. My brother, for example tells me that everywhere he goes, the first thing he does is look for the window he is going to be distracted out of!

Links with depression

Inattentive ADHD kids usually veer towards depression, more than anxiety. Depression and anxiety are both coexisting conditions with ADHD but as Inattentive ADHD kids struggle so much to motivate themselves to do anything and get called ‘lazy’ and told off for ‘not making an effort’ on a daily basis, it’s not hard to see why this can lead to depression.

Inattentive ADHD: the positives

But there must be some good things about being Inattentive ADHD, doesn’t there? And of course, there are! These kids tend to be very creative and are generally very kind and sweet-natured. Once people stop expecting them to achieve and be on a level playing field with neurotypical kids, they often are very successful in the arts, IT, and anywhere there is no pressure for them to finish things at a certain time. Given the right circumstances and support, they can achieve hugely.

Children with this condition, mask it very well at school and are difficult to spot. But they need as much help and support as the other two ADHD categories so it’s very important their ADHD is identified. My Inattentive brother has had a much more difficult life than me with my Combined ADHD. Mine has brought anxiety and a constant internal motor but his feelings of underachieving and low self-esteem have been far worse.

Sarah Templeton is an ADHD counsellor, coach, CBT therapist and author of How Not to Murder Your ADHD Kid: Instead Learn How to Be Your Child’s Own ADHD Coach, available on Amazon, priced £19.99.


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