Symptoms of Inattentive ADHD

“I’ve learned it’s important not to limit yourself. You can do whatever you really love to do, no matter what it is.” – Ryan Gosling, Actor with ADHD

The different types of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) display distinct symptoms and are diagnosed using specific differentiating criteria. Unlike hyperactive-impulsive ADHD, inattentive ADHD is often overlooked as children without ADHD can present similar behaviors from time to time. It’s important for both teachers and parents to identify and understand these symptoms from the outset to be prepared to take the appropriate next steps. To be formally diagnosed with inattentive ADHD, a child must exhibit six of the following nine symptoms across a range of environments within a period of six months with onset of symptoms seen before the age of 12 years.

Lack of attention to detail

A child with inattentive ADHD may not pay careful attention to classroom assignments or household chores. Accordingly, a lack of attention to detail can be classified as a symptom if the child displays consistent careless mistakes or almost never completes a task thoroughly.

Trouble staying focused

The inability to remain focused on schoolwork, tasks, or long-term projects is another symptom of inattentive ADHD. This trouble with focus is most easily observed in a classroom, during playtime, or at recess, as these children present a difficulty committing to an activity for any significant amount of time.

Frequent spaciness

A child with inattentive ADHD may consistently get lost in their thoughts, struggle to listen, or zone out. These behaviors are often written off as daydreaming, which may cause a delay or complete oversight of the diagnosis. Frequent spaciness may appear as if the child does not listen when spoken to or as if they are mentally elsewhere.

Difficulty following instructions

A child with inattentive ADHD commonly finds it challenging to comply with instructions or rules in the classroom and may struggle to complete tasks or perform them in a specific manner. Children with this challenge may have the right answers but be completely unaware of how they arrived at their conclusions.

Lack of organization

Children with inattentive ADHD may struggle to organize tasks or manage their time wisely. This symptom can result in increased levels of stress, mood swings, or anger in the child or parents. Lack of organization may be accompanied by a lack of focus and is often displayed as difficulty with executive functions, specifically keeping track of objects, setting goals, cleaning, multitasking, making complex decisions, and remembering appointments or instructions.

Easily distracted

A child with inattentive ADHD frequently becomes distracted, even during tasks that are typically enjoyed. This behavior is often most noticeable when the child is telling a story, playing with friends, or watching TV and movies.


Repeated forgetfulness is also a common symptom of inattentive ADHD. This symptom can result in the complete omission of critical tasks or steps in a process and can continue into adulthood to cause missed bill payments, appointments, or essential job duties.

Often misplacing possessions

A child with inattentive ADHD might regularly lose necessary materials for school or general daily activities. These children display an unconventionally high level of misplacement of important items, such as keys, writing utensils, homework, outerwear, or glasses.

Difficulty sustaining mental effort

Another symptom of inattentive ADHD is the reluctance to perform tasks and activities that require significant concentration or long-term focus. The extreme difficulty to sustain mental effort causes these children to greatly dislike or even completely avoid activities that call for persistence or diligence, such as completing forms or writing assignments.

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Sources: CDC,, WebMD

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