Inattentive ADHD

Inattentive ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is a common type of ADHD that targets your focus and organization, but you may have few or no symptoms of hyperactivity. It affects both children and adults. If you have this type, you may forget to complete chores, find it difficult to pay attention when someone’s talking to you, or struggle at work or in school meeting deadlines. Treatment options are available.


Four common symptoms of inattentive ADHD and how they can affect routine
Symptoms of inattentive ADHD affect many parts of your daily routine.

What is inattentive ADHD?

Inattentive ADHD is a type of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) where you have difficulty concentrating, focusing on a task and staying organized. You may have few or no symptoms of hyperactivity (can’t sit still or frequent physical movements).

With this type of ADHD, you may:

  • Have trouble paying attention to details.
  • Be easily distracted.
  • Find it hard to manage time or finish tasks.
  • Forget to do routine chores (like finish homework, pay bills on time or return phone calls).

The condition interferes with your quality of life by intruding on your day-to-day functioning. Treatment is available for inattentive ADHD in both children and adults.

How common is inattentive ADHD?

ADHD affects millions of people around the world. Inattentive ADHD is the most common type.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of inattentive ADHD?

The symptoms of inattentive ADHD include having trouble or difficulty with the following behaviors:

  • Paying attention to the details and/or making frequent mistakes while doing tasks.
  • Staying focused on long-winded tasks (like reading, listening to a presentation, etc.).
  • Listening to others.
  • Following through on tasks or obligations. You can easily lose focus in the middle of a task.
  • Managing time and meeting deadlines.
  • Performing tasks that need significant brain power, like filling out forms or writing reports.
  • Keeping track of common items needed to complete everyday tasks (pencil, wallet, keys, phone, etc.).
  • Staying in the moment without distractions.
  • Remembering to complete routine tasks (chores, errands, appointments, etc.).

Although everyone experiences problems paying attention and focusing at times, if you have inattentive ADHD, you’ll experience these symptoms so often that they interfere with your daily functioning at school, at work, with friends and family or in social situations.

What causes inattentive ADHD?

The cause of inattentive ADHD is unclear. Research suggests the following may contribute to ADHD:

  • Genetics.
  • Anatomical makeup of your brain (how certain areas of your brain form and function).

In addition, the following factors that happen during pregnancy may relate to a child developing ADHD:

Is inattentive ADHD hereditary?

Studies show that inattentive ADHD can run in your biological family, so you’re more at risk of developing it if someone related to you has it.


What are the complications of inattentive ADHD?

Inattentive ADHD makes it difficult for you to complete tasks and stay organized. It can also make you feel impatient or moody. These things can affect your relationships, as well as your performance in school, at work or during activities. You might:

  • Miss strict deadlines.
  • Be late for school, work or appointments.
  • Lose or misplace important documents or items.
  • Work or live in a “messy” or disorganized space.
  • Find it difficult to socialize and maintain friendships.

Being easily distracted can affect your physical safety if you work or participate in high-risk activities where following instructions are a high priority.

While growing up, you may have been reprimanded for your behaviors. Teachers might have told you that you’re “lazy” for not turning in assignments or “careless” for not paying attention to lectures.

These are far from the truth, as your brain functions differently from those around you. You still listen and retain information, you just do it in a way that works for you.

It can be hard for others who don’t experience ADHD to relate to how you feel. As a result, inattentive ADHD can impact your emotional well-being and mental health.

Diagnosis and Tests

How do you test for inattentive ADHD?

There isn’t a single test to diagnose inattentive ADHD. Instead, a healthcare provider — usually a psychiatrist, neurologist or psychologist — will carefully review and evaluate your symptoms.


How is inattentive ADHD diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will offer an ADHD screening to diagnose inattentive ADHD that consists of these three steps:

  1. Confirm the presence of symptoms. Your provider will ask about your past and current behavior patterns and how you function at school/work, at home and in social settings. Your provider may also talk to teachers, school staff and loved ones to verify these details from the people who know you best. You may be asked to complete a rating scale or checklist of symptoms.
  2. Confirm that the symptoms aren’t due to another condition (like sleep disorders, learning disability, alcohol/substance use) or situational factors (like increased work demand or extreme stress). They’ll take a complete medical history, perform a physical exam and offer additional testing, if necessary.
  3. Determine if you have co-existing mental health conditions (like depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder). This may include a psychological evaluation or other tests.

Symptoms of inattentive ADHD usually begin before 12 years of age. Your provider will verify that your symptoms persist for at least six months, affect you in more than one setting (like at work or school and home) and interfere with your daily routine.

Can an inattentive ADHD diagnosis happen during adulthood?

Yes, you can receive an inattentive ADHD diagnosis as an adult.

While symptoms usually appear during childhood, a diagnosis may have slid under the radar. You may have struggled with completing schoolwork on time or being easily distracted. As hyperactivity usually isn’t a symptom of this type of ADHD, a diagnosis isn’t always clear for kids.

As an adult, you may have difficulty concentrating on college lectures or staying focused in business meetings. Your home may be cluttered or you may have trouble remembering appointments. You may find yourself getting easily annoyed with friends or family members.

It’s common for ADHD to run in your biological family history. For example, you may notice symptoms in your children that remind you of how you behaved at their age. Because of this, you may seek professional help for inattentive ADHD at the same time as your children.

Management and Treatment

How is inattentive ADHD treated?

There isn’t a cure for inattentive ADHD, but treatment is available to manage symptoms. A healthcare provider may recommend one or a combination of the following treatment options:

  • Medications.
  • Behavior modifications.
  • Coaching.

Medications for inattentive ADHD

There are different medications a healthcare provider might prescribe to treat inattentive ADHD, including:

  • Psychostimulants: Psychostimulants streamline signals sent to your central nervous system. They can make you more alert. Two common types are amphetamine and methylphenidate. Your provider will adjust the dosage and frequency of these medications to maximize their effectiveness throughout your life.
  • Antidepressants: Antidepressants change the way your brain uses certain chemicals like neurotransmitters to manage your attention, mood and behavior. Common types used for ADHD include bupropion and venlafaxine.
  • Nonstimulants: Nonstimulants are an option if psychostimulants aren’t right for what your body needs. They target how certain chemicals (neurotransmitters) communicate in your brain to regulate your behavior. Atomoxetine and guanfacine are common types.

Many medications that treat ADHD in children are also effective for adults diagnosed with inattentive ADHD, with an adjusted dosage and frequency. Your provider will select a medication that fits your needs, which could vary from person to person.

Behavior modifications for inattentive ADHD

A healthcare provider might recommend behavior modifications through therapy. Types of therapy to treat inattentive ADHD may include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps identify problem behaviors to create and implement strategies of self-regulation (managing your behavior, emotions and thoughts). It can also help you identify automatic or irrational thoughts that may result in negative behavior and replace them with positive thoughts and behaviors.
  • Group therapy or support groups: You can learn from others who share a similar experience as you do. This is a helpful option if you want to build a connection with others.

Coaching for inattentive ADHD

Coaching is a goal-oriented approach that helps you learn more about how ADHD affects you so you can find solutions to the challenges you face.

A coach will:

  • Help you solve problems in your daily routine.
  • Provide feedback and recommendations and offer encouragement on how to address problems you face.
  • Give practical advice to help you achieve your goals.


Can inattentive ADHD be prevented?

There’s no known way to entirely prevent inattentive ADHD. You can reduce your risk of having a child with inattentive ADHD by taking care of yourself during pregnancy.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have inattentive ADHD?

With inattentive ADHD, you’ve probably been wrongfully judged on your behavior. Someone might call you irresponsible, forgetful or not paying attention. You may have poor grades in school or you may face challenges in the workplace meeting deadlines. These labels and complications can make you feel like you’re flawed, but you aren’t.

It’s never too late to talk to a healthcare provider about your symptoms. Treatment is available for inattentive ADHD to manage how symptoms affect your day-to-day functioning and how you feel about yourself. Your care team can help you fend off these negative labels so you can reach your full potential.

Living With

How can I manage daily activities with inattentive ADHD?

Here are some tips to help you manage your daily routine if you have inattentive ADHD.

To help you manage distractions, you can:

  • Request a quiet or private work area if you work in an office space. Move to an unused conference space or other area where there are few distractions or noise.
  • Wear noise-canceling headphones to block out unwanted noise.
  • Redirect phone calls to voicemail and return phone calls at set times throughout the day.

To help you stay organized, you can:

  • Set aside the first 10 to 20 minutes of your day to plan your tasks for the day and keep a to-do list.
  • Work on and complete one task at a time before moving on to the next one.
  • Set up appointment and deadline reminders to alert you before an event.
  • Write down important information in a notebook so you don’t forget information.
  • Use labels or color-coded folders or tabs if a filing system is needed.
  • Set up online automatic payment of bills so you don’t forget to pay them.

To prevent losing or misplacing important items, you can:

  • Identify specific areas to place each item.
  • Get into a routine of only placing items in these designated spots.

To help you stay focused, you can:

  • Take handwritten notes during meetings.
  • With permission, audio record and transcribe meetings.
  • Break up larger tasks into smaller ones. Reward yourself when each task is complete.
  • Take short breaks to prevent boredom — get up from your desk, take a short walk, do some stretches or drink some water.

How can I help my child with inattentive ADHD?

As your child grows, ADHD may present challenges for them at school, at home and during play. You can help your child with inattentive ADHD by:

  • Following your child’s treatment plan as directed by their provider.
  • Working with your child’s teachers to help them learn and retain information outside of the classroom.
  • Scheduling distraction-free time for your child to complete their homework after school.
  • Letting your child take short breaks if they’re getting bored with a task.
  • Offering positive reinforcement and feedback when your child completes challenging tasks.
  • Not placing judgment or criticizing your child if they’re falling behind, having trouble reaching their goals or staying organized.

As a parent or caregiver, you may want to step in and complete tasks for your child like cleaning up their room or offering answers to their homework from school. While it seems helpful, it can negatively impact their ability to reach goals on their own. Let your child take the lead at their own pace. You can give advice and support them so they’re empowered to achieve their goals themselves.

Your child may qualify to enroll in special education if inattentive ADHD significantly affects their school performance. Educators can help your child meet their goals by modifying their classroom learning environment, using alternative teaching techniques and adjusting the curriculum.

When should I see a healthcare provider?

If you notice symptoms of inattentive ADHD that interfere with your ability to complete tasks or your routine, talk to a healthcare provider. Let your child’s provider know if you notice symptoms of ADHD in their behavior.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

  • Do I have inattentive ADHD or another condition?
  • What treatment options do you recommend?
  • Are there side effects of treatment?
  • When and how often should I take prescribed medications?
  • Should I see a therapist?
  • How can I manage inattentive ADHD at school or work?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Inattentive ADHD is often misunderstood as having your head in the clouds or being irresponsible. ADHD can cause your brain to function differently, but treatment is available, so your symptoms can play a less distracting role in your life. And it’s never too early or too late to discuss an ADHD screening with you or your child’s healthcare provider.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 05/03/2024.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Appointments 866.588.2264