Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder or ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that has three presentation types: Inattentive, Hyperactive/Impulsive and Combined. A neurodevelopmental disorder means that it relates to how the brain functions and it is not due to parenting strategies or psychological stress.
When people hear the word ADHD, they typically think of what they have seen on television or movies where the character is going a mile a minute and bouncing off the walls. If these characters were to be diagnosed with ADHD, they would likely be considered to have the Hyperactive/Impulsive Presentation of ADHD and not the Inattentive presentation.
An individual with the Inattentive Presentation of ADHD symptoms or traits is not as outwardly apparent to an observer. These individuals have a hard time with their organization skills and paying attention for a sustained time period. Like most conditions, if an individual is able to come up with different strategies and coping skills to manage their symptoms, it can be difficult for others to know how hard they are working to get through the day.
The term ADHD Inattentive Presentation means that when the individual was assessed for ADHD, they met the diagnostic criteria based on behaviours relating to inattention. One analogy that I heard years ago about an individual with ADHD is something along the lines of ‘Having ADHD is like having your brain always channel surfing.’ This description would best describe an individual with the Inattentive Presentation of ADHD because it is as if they are always using part of their attention to check if there is something else that is more important or needs to be done.
When working with an individual with the Inattentive Presentation of ADHD it is important to remember that the individual is not acting this way on purpose, it is part of who they are and how their brain functions. Try to be patient with them and help them refocus when you can see their mind is wandering to something else. It can be very frustrating, but remember, the individual is likely just as frustrated that they cannot provide the same focus and attention to detail as individuals without ADHD.
For the examples in this post, I will be using a fictional character named Sam who has ADHD Inattentive Presentation. Please note these are just examples and I am not describing a real individual.
They are disorganized in life and can have a hard time following instructions and completing tasks
An individual with the Inattentive Presentation of ADHD struggles with the organization in all aspects of their life. The individual’s house will likely be very disorganized, and they will have difficulty locating things that they need. They have trouble completing tasks in a timely and sequential manner and may jump to another job before finishing the first.
For example, imagine Sam has to clean up the kitchen after making a big meal. The first thing he wants to do is to bring all the dishes from the table to the kitchen sink. As Sam is clearing the dishes, he notices that the dishwasher has the clean light on so he stops clearing the table to unload the dishwasher. When he is part way unloading the dishwasher, he steps on some spilt food on the floor and decides he better sweep the floor before anything else because Sam doesn’t want to make more of a mess by tracking food all through the kitchen while he is cleaning up. Sam decides to make a couple of piles in the kitchen as he sweeps. He puts the first pile into the dustpan and goes to empty it into the garbage. When he is at the garbage can, Sam notices that it is overflowing and that he should really empty it. As he is coming back inside after taking the garbage out, he notices the mail by the front door and sees his favourite magazine has arrived. He can’t wait to look through it, so he decides to take a quick look through it. In this short period, Sam has started three tasks in the kitchen but only finished one of them. When Sam sees a job that needs to be done, he forgets to finish the current job he is working on and goes ahead to start the next task.
They often lose things
Losing things goes hand in hand with disorganization. If someone struggles with keeping things tidy in a logical, well thought out manner, it only makes sense that they lose the things they need. This could be because the individual has not established a dedicated spot for putting these essential items or because they were distracted in the middle of doing something and they moved on to the next task before finishing the first.
If you think of the example used above with Sam trying to clean up the kitchen, Sam quickly moved from one task to another before he finished the first task. Before he moved on to the next task, he did not take the time to return the items he was using to where they belong. The next time he needs the broom and he goes to get it out of the broom closet, do you think he will remember that it is actually beside the garbage?
They find it difficult to perform tasks that require long periods of concentration
An individual with ADHD Inattentive Presentation will have difficulty concentrating on something for an extended period such as school, homework, attending a presentation, reading long documents.
For example, Sam is sitting in class at school and is having a very hard time concentrating on what the teacher is talking about. He is continually fidgeting and looking around the classroom.
They don’t seem to be listening when you are speaking to them directly
It can be very frustrating to try to have a conversation with someone who has the Inattentive Presentation of ADHD because they can be looking at you right in the eye when you are talking to them but have no idea what you are talking about. This is particularly frustrating in situations when there is nothing else going on while you are talking to them. In this instance, the individual is likely paying more attention to their own thoughts than to what you are saying.
They are easily distracted by unrelated things
When an individual with the Inattentive Presentation of ADHD is in an environment where there is a lot of stuff going on, it can be challenging for them to focus on the task at hand. For example, think of something as commonplace as going out for a meal at a restaurant. This situation can be challenging because there are so many different things that can serve as distractions.
Let’s say Sam is going out for dinner with a few friends, but his friends are getting frustrated because Sam is not involved in the conversation they are having. What they don’t realize is while Sam is trying to be a contributing member to the discussion at his table, he also is following the conversations that are happening at the tables around him. He is not eavesdropping intentionally to be rude, but it is hard for him to focus on one conversation when there are so many other conversations going on around him. It is particularly hard if one of the tables is talking about something that interests him. He also may get distracted by music that is playing in the background. If he hears a familiar song, it may trigger a specific memory and reminisce about this memory can take his attention away from actively enjoying the meal with friends.
They are often forgetful when it comes to daily activities
If you have someone who is disorganized and often loses things, it isn’t hard to understand why they may struggle with things like remembering to pay bills on time or completing their chores.
Sam has a hard time organizing his finances and paying his bills on time. He finds it hard to remember when the different bills are due and where he needs to get the information from. He also struggles to remember to check the balance on his credit cards and to make sure he has enough money in his bank account to cover his expenses.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.