ADHD – Inattentive Type

In the world of ADHD where it is not unusual to deal with challenging behaviors, often times it is the overt “active” behavior that gets all of the attention: the impulsive acts, the hyperactive movements, the loud defiance.  It’s important as practitioners and educators that we also recognize that supportive techniques are needed to help the quiet children, the ones diagnosed with ADHD Inattentive type.

As with each type of ADHD, it is important to begin with a proper diagnosis from an experienced diagnostician.  Just because a child is having trouble focusing, we cannot assume it is ADHD. It is vital that we distinguish between a Hypothesis and a Diagnosis.  You want to see if there are alternative explanations and/or co-existing conditions that will be important for treatment considerations.

  • Inattentive ADHD can sometimes be mistaken for Anxiety and/or Depression. Women especially have often been misdiagnosed and would qualify for an ADHD diagnosis.
  • Learning Disabilities often go unnoticed in the early years. A student who struggles with inattentiveness might be able to compensate for their lack of focus because of their intelligence level, so their academic performance does not create a red flag.
  • There is another disorder of concentration that researchers are looking at in recent years. The working titles are “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo” and “Concentration Deficit Disorder”.  The leading symptoms here are:
  • Daydreaming
  • Trouble staying alert
  • Mentally foggy/easily confused
  • Stares a lot
  • Spacey, mind is elsewhere
  • Lethargic
  • Underachieve
  • Slow-moving/sluggish
  • Inaccurate processing
  • Drowsy/sleepy
  • Apathetic/withdrawn
  • Lost in thoughts
  • Slow to complete tasks
  • Lacks Initiative/sustained effort
  • Once a proper diagnosis has been made, then as with each type of ADHD, you will want to address the behaviors that are creating the challenges to performance.  Here are some suggestions that are aimed at looking specifically at the Inattentive component of ADHD.
  • Parent Coaching/ Teacher Training – Parents and Educators must understand the profile of the child so as to create realistic expectations and supports based on the child’s unique needs. As I always say – “Parent the Child You Have.”
  • Medication – While the decision to put a child on medication is always a complex and highly personal decision, I do believe it is important to consider. ADHD is a neurobiological disorder caused by a consistent pattern of below-normal activity in the neurotransmission of the chemicals Dopamine and Norepinephrine in the brain’s prefrontal cortex.  Stimulant medication address this directly and can help improve attention and focus.  It is important, however, to know the full diagnosis since, for example, you may want to be treating differently if anxiety and/or depression are also present.
  • Educate children about fidgeting – Help children understand that when they are having trouble focusing there are things they can do to help themselves. I sometimes observe teachers giving students fidgets.  The act of fidgeting can actually stimulate the networks of the brain that control attention.  Please read my article Can’t You Just Sit Still and Pay Attention for more information on fidgeting.
  • Mindfulness Training – At the core, Mindfulness is about being aware of the present moment and consciously directing our attention. Helping children learn to be aware of their thinking can help them act with greater intention.  Attention starts with Intention.
  • Self-Talk – Help children pay attention to the messages they are telling themselves. This starts with Mindfulness, but must also include a positive, encouraging Mindset.  Carol Dweck in her landmark book Mindset outlines the importance of focusing on Effort more than Outcome as a means of motivating children (and adults) to develop grit and perseverance.  We encourage children to know that with continued effort, helpful strategies, and support they can achieve and feel successful.
  • Small, frequent breaks – Building stamina in working is important. But sometimes, it’s also valuable to work in short, intense bursts.  There is an article on my website titled What I learned about Time Management from Running and a Tomato that outlines the Pomodoro Technique for structured breaks that can be very helpful in increasing productivity.  You may want to consider small rewards to help children keep on task (as opposed to motivation for compliance for future tasks).
  • Chunk the work – By breaking larger tasks into smaller, well defined actions, children can experience the feeling of completion more often. This will allow them to recognize and be recognized for successful behavior and give them a greater sense of accomplishment overall.
  • Empathy – I cannot overstate the importance of empathy. So often, due to adult desire to motivate children and ease their angst, we understate and actually brush over the challenges that kids are experiencing.  “Oh, you can do this, it’s easy.”  “Just go ahead and do it, you will feel so much better when you are done.”  In reality – it’s NOT easy.  And they may be so focused on the awful feeling of NOW that they can’t imagine ever being DONE.  Help them try to really imagine what it will feel like to be done and help them visualize what they will be doing after the work is completed.  And most of all, sit by them as they start and acknowledge that the work may really be hard, even boring, but that they CAN do it.  Let them feel your belief in them more than your pressure to just be done.  What you Pay Attention to Grows.

5 thoughts on “ADHD – Inattentive Type”

  1. Thank you for your work and sharing this information. You have described my daughter. It has been difficult because she is bright and quiet. These children can go unnoticed because they are not failing all areas and are not behavior problems. I would like to know more about how the school community and I, as a parent, can better attend to her needs.

    • Thanks for writing. Yes, it is so challenging because a child can be very bright and yet not they are sometimes assumed to be aloof or uninterested. School communities can help by becoming more educated as to how they approach kids (and sometimes respond by NOT approaching kids) in helping them feel recognized and valued even though they are not as overtly grabbing the attention others do. The more parents and educators understand different brain types, the better these, and all kids, can be supported and encouraged for their innate gifts, talents and passions.

  2. Cindy, this article perfectly describes my Ian. If it weren’t for your Calm and Connected class I would not have had the tools to recognize the symptoms. I’m happy to report Ian is now in 8th grade, has a 504, and is feeling much better about his achievements.

    • Hey Martha,
      Thanks so much for reaching out. I am so happy to hear how things are going. You certainly put in the work – the love, care and tools to help Ian progress.
      All the best,

  3. What an informative article, Cindy. I love how after 20 years in the educational therapy field I can still learn new information. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. 🙂


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