Inattentive ADHD Type: Explained

If you’re someone who’s been struggling with inattention, forgetfulness, and difficulty concentrating, you may be experiencing symptoms of Inattentive Type ADHD. Whether you’re seeking information for yourself or a loved one, we want to help increase the awareness and understanding of Inattentive Type ADHD to provide more resources and guidance for managing the condition.

Published: March 28, 2023

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    Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects millions of people worldwide. ADHD is currently labelled under three subtypes:

    1. ADHD Predominantly Inattentive Type (formally known as ADD)

    2. ADHD Combined Type

    3. ADHD Hyperactive-Impulsive Type

    While all ADHD subtypes share some common symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, and disorganization, each subtype has its own unique set of signs and challenges.

    This article will focus specifically on Inattentive Type ADHD. Although Inattentive ADHD is often one of the most commonly diagnosed types of ADHD, it is also more likely to be misunderstood, misdiagnosed or overlooked — especially in women.  

    If you’re interested in learning more about the other ADHD subtypes, take a look at our resources on Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD and Combined ADHD.

    Inattentive ADHD in adults

    It’s important to note that Inattentive Type ADHD can affect all ages, but many people with Inattentive ADHD aren’t diagnosed until adulthood. We’ll be concentrating on how it manifests in adults and its impact on their daily functioning and quality of life. This will help ensure those living with it can receive the support and treatment to manage their symptoms, rebuild their self-esteem and find strength in their uniquely creative thought process.

    What is Inattentive ADHD?

    Inattentive ADHD is a subtype of ADHD characterized by symptoms such as difficulty paying attention, forgetfulness, distractibility and disorganization. In addition to being the most common subtype among women, Inattentive ADHD often goes unnoticed because the symptoms appear less disruptive and overt than the other subtypes of ADHD.

    Since symptoms are often more subtly expressed, they’re often misattributed to other causes – sometimes being chalked up to “laziness” or carelessness.” As you can imagine, that’s incredibly damaging to someone’s ego and self-esteem when the reality is that many individuals are living with undiagnosed Inattentive ADHD and are doing their best to navigate life with significant neurobiological differences. 

    How is Inattentive ADHD different from other ADHD types?

    Inattentive ADHD is diagnosed if a person experiences symptoms of ADHD that are predominantly due to inattention. Unlike an individual with Hyperactive-Impulsive Type ADHD, people with Inattentive ADHD are less likely to be hyperactive, overly talkative, blurt out answers, and feel physical restlessness that manifests in fidgeting and squirming. People who experience symptoms of both Inattentive and Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD are likely to be diagnosed with Combined Type. 

    It is common for someone with Inattentive ADHD to sometimes experience symptoms of Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD. For instance, you may find that you engage in impulsive behaviours from time to time or feel physically restless. The biggest difference tends to be the intensity and frequency of these symptoms. 

    For someone living with primarily Inattentive ADHD, your greatest struggle will come from problems such as high distractibility and feeling zoned out. Due to the challenges you face with focus and attention, you are more likely to avoid tasks requiring sustained mental effort. If you look back at your school history, you were more likely to have encountered issues with unfinished work or daydreaming rather than constantly disrupting the classroom. 

    Regardless, all subtypes of ADHD share common symptoms, like difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, and disorganization. It’s important to recognize the unique challenges and differences of each subtype to allow for a more accurate diagnosis and treatment plan that address each person’s specific needs.

    What are the signs of Inattentive ADHD?

    The following are some common signs and symptoms of Inattentive ADHD:

    1. Difficulty organizing tasks and activities: Whether it’s a messy desk, giant laundry piles, or missed deadlines — staying organized can often feel impossible and overwhelming. 

    2. Poor listening skills/zoning out when being spoken to: Even if you try your best, sometimes your brain has other plans when attempting to listen. You may be living out imaginary scenarios, making speeches, thinking about hobbies, or replaying great social media content. Sometimes, you may not even recall what occurred during a zoned-out phase.

    3. Frequently losing things, such as keys or wallets. You may or may not have some coping mechanisms to help you keep track of things. For those with Inattentive ADHD, remembering where you lost something can feel like a blank spot in your brain. 

    4. Forgetfulness: Even important events sometimes get sacrificed due to your brain’s difficulties with executive functioning. 

    5. Difficulty following through on instructions and finishing tasks: For most people with Inattentive ADHD, instruction manuals are usually for decoration or to consult after you’ve made all of the mistakes. Completing tasks can also feel nearly physically painful once your mind has disengaged from the activity. 

    6. Avoiding tasks that require sustained mental effort: Often the source of procrastination in Inattentive ADHD, you dread the idea of prolonged focus, especially if it’s obligated or boring. 

    7. Frequently switching from one task to another without completing any of them

    8. Distractibility: You get pulled into side quests constantly and almost feel compelled to continue down side roads that lead you away from your original task. You may also find that watching movies, doing work, reading, or even driving is wrought with internal and external distractions. 

    9. Difficulty paying attention to details and making careless mistakes: Careless mistakes are generally minor in childhood but can have bigger repercussions as adults. Whether it’s mistakes on your taxes or a typo to your boss, difficulty with attention to detail can be one of the most challenging symptoms of Inattentive ADHD. 

    It’s important to highlight that everyone experiences some level of inattention from time to time. However, individuals with Inattentive ADHD experience these symptoms consistently, significantly impacting their day-to-day quality of life.

    The impact of Inattentive ADHD on work, school, and relationships

    Living with Inattentive ADHD can be isolating, given that its symptoms are often overlooked and misdiagnosed. In school or work settings, individuals with Inattentive ADHD may struggle with staying focused, completing tasks, missing deadlines, or having trouble organizing work, leading to cluttered workspaces and decreased productivity and performance.

    Inattentive ADHD can also affect an individual’s social interactions and relationships, such as struggling to listen attentively during conversations, leading to misunderstandings or conflicts. They may also forget important dates or events, which can strain relationships with friends and family members.

    What causes Inattentive ADHD?

    The causes of Inattentive ADHD are complex, and there’s no black-and-white answer. Genetic factors are believed to play a role, with twin studies indicating that ADHD is possibly heritable. Neurobiological, environmental and social factors have also been linked to ADHD. There is also a growing body of evidence that childhood trauma may play a role in the development of ADHD symptomatology.

    An early diagnosis is important

    Early identification and interventions are vital to help manage the symptoms of Inattentive ADHD. The earlier someone living with Inattentive ADHD receives a diagnosis and appropriate treatment, the more likely they’ll have improved academic and social outcomes compared to those who don’t.

    How do you get diagnosed with Inattentive ADHD?


    You can find self-screening tests available online that can help identify the symptoms of Inattentive ADHD. But note that self-screening tests cannot diagnose ADHD on their own. Patients should consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis.

    Medical diagnosis

    In Canada, diagnosing someone with ADHD is typically done by a healthcare professional specializing in ADHD. The diagnosis commonly includes reviewing an individual’s medical history, utilizing assessment tools, and some practitioners may also perform neurocognitive assessments and physical exams.  

    The diagnostic criteria for ADHD include the following:

    1. Persistent inattentiveness that interferes with functioning or development, as evidenced by at least five of the following symptoms:

    • Carelessness/poor attention to detail

    • Diminished attention span

    • Poor listening skills

    • Lacking follow-through on instructions or work

    • Difficulty organizing tasks and activities

    • Avoiding tasks that require concentration

    • Loses things often necessary for tasks and activities

    • Easily distracted by the environment or unrelated thoughts

    • Forgetful in daily activities, such as doing chores and errands

    2. Several symptoms are present before the age of 12 years.

    3. Several symptoms are present in two or more settings, such as at home, school, or work.

    4. There is clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with or reduce the quality of social, academic, or occupational functioning.

    Virtual ADHD care improves accessibility

    Boys are 3x more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls. Inattentive ADHD is more common in women than men, and its symptoms are often chalked up to signs of stress or anxiety. At Frida, it’s imperative that everyone, regardless of gender identity, can receive ADHD care equitably, which is why we’re removing barriers to get you an assessment quicker than traditional routes.

    ADHD Treatment Options

    Remember, if you’re diagnosed with ADHD, it’s the beginning of your journey. Millions of adults with ADHD live successful and fulfilling lives. With the right interventions, including medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes, you can manage your ADHD symptoms.

    1. Medication: Stimulant medications such as methylphenidate or amphetamines are commonly prescribed for Inattentive ADHD. These medications can help improve attention, concentration, impulse control and other symptoms.

    2. Therapy: Behavioral therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and social skills training can help individuals with Inattentive ADHD develop strategies to manage their symptoms.

    3. Lifestyle changes: Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate sleep can all help manage symptoms.

    Consider starting with an ADHD screening through Frida

    Diagnosing Inattentive ADHD can be challenging, but it all starts with an assessment, leading to a thorough evaluation by a qualified healthcare professional. If you think you or someone you know is living with Inattentive ADHD without a formal diagnosis, consider starting a free, 2-minute self-assessment with Frida

    From there, our evaluation process for Inattentive ADHD involves a combination of interviews, questionnaires, and assessments done in four steps:

    1. Complete a medical questionnaire/screener (5 – 7 minutes long)

    2. Complete a medical assessment form (20 minutes long)

    3. Schedule and undergo an ADHD assessment appointment (75 minutes)

    4. Receive your diagnosis results

    It’s a journey, not a sprint. Not all treatment options work for everyone, so finding the right combination of interventions may take time and experimentation. At Frida, we lead with compassion to ensure the steps you take with us lead to a more fulfilling life. 

    Frida Care Team

    We are a group of clinicians, continuous care support, writers, and creators who care deeply about patient care and ADHD. Together, we write content that we hope sheds light on ADHD and the health care space at large. You can reach us at if you have any questions!