When ADHD challenges are primarily with organization, focusing, or staying on task, you may be living with ADHD inattentive type.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by changes in the brain’s function and development during childhood.

It’s one of the most common neurodevelopment disorders, affecting approximately 6 million children in the United States alone.

ADHD can look different from one person to the next, and symptoms can change as you transition from childhood into adulthood. The type of ADHD you’re living with is often categorized by its primary symptoms.

Several types of ADHD are included under the diagnosis, including:

  • predominantly inattentive type
  • predominantly hyperactive/impulsive type
  • combined presentation

ADHD inattentive type, sometimes referred to as ADHD-PI, is ADHD with dominant symptoms related to inattention.

It’s not a separate diagnosis from ADHD. Inattentive type is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR) as a “specifier” for ADHD.

Specifiers are identification terms that add clarity to a specific diagnosis to aid in creating targeted treatment plans.

In the case of ADHD inattentive type, the diagnosis is ADHD and the specifier of “inattentive type” informs medical professionals of primary challenges, such as:

  • trouble organizing physical spaces or project plans
  • regularly making careless mistakes
  • difficulty following conversations
  • dislike of long-format mental commitments, like lectures
  • starting tasks and not finishing them

You can still experience symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity in ADHD inattentive type, but the majority of your symptoms will involve challenges with concentration and attention.

If you experience equal parts inattention and hyperactivity, you may be living with combined type ADHD.

According to the DSM-5-TR, inattentive type ADHD may be diagnosed when six or more of the following symptoms have been present for at least 6 months, aren’t aligned with expected developmental progress, and cause significant impairment:

  • frequently making careless mistakes or failing to pay attention to details
  • difficulty maintain attention during long-format work or activity
  • appearing distracted during direct conversation
  • starting tasks and regularly leaving them incomplete
  • difficulty organizing time, spaces, and task planning
  • forgetfulness in daily activities
  • distractibility from minor stimuli
  • regularly losing important items necessary for task completion

The DSM-5-TR outlines the diagnostic criteria for ADHD inattentive type, but how these symptoms look in everyday life can differ for each person.

ADHD as an adult

ADHD symptoms can change as you age. The DSM-5-TR states symptoms of hyperactivity are the most common among children during their preschool years, with signs of inattention becoming more prominent with age.

By adolescence and adulthood, hyperactivity can become less obvious, restricted to manifestations like fidgeting, impatience, or restlessness.

This doesn’t necessarily mean ADHD has improved or worsened. You may still be experiencing symptoms of hyperactivity; it’s just that how you express them has changed.

As an adult, for example, you’ve likely learned that jumping on the furniture at work isn’t as acceptable as it was when you were 5 years old. Because you’re still living with ADHD, but you’ve adapted to a more subtle form of expression.

The exact causes of ADHD aren’t well understood. Research suggests a number of factors can influence its development, including:

  • genetics
  • environmental toxins
  • childhood trauma
  • brain injury
  • prenatal substance exposure
  • structural brain changes
  • extreme stress during pregnancy

Why some people experience primary symptoms of inattention instead of hyperactivity is an area of ongoing investigation.

According to a small study from 2022, structural brain changes unique to each ADHD subtype may be partially responsible for the differences in symptoms.

The treatment standards for ADHD are similar regardless of subtype. They involve the strategic use of medications alongside psychosocial support and psychotherapy approaches.

ADHD impacts everyone uniquely, and treatment plans are tailored to your circumstances.


Therapies for treating inattentive type ADHD cover multiple areas of behavioral, educational, individual, and family dynamics.

Their overarching goals are to provide emotional and functional support for the individual and to develop beneficial thought and behavior patterns while interacting with others.

Types of ADHD therapies can include:

  • Family therapy: Helps strengthen the family unit and provides education on ADHD.
  • Parent training: Teaches parents the skills they need to support a child living with ADHD.
  • Behavioral therapy: Helps children modify and cope with existing ADHD behaviors.
  • Social skills training: Offers guidance on social conduct and expectations.
  • Parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT): Focuses on improving the parent-child relationship to help manage symptoms of ADHD.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Evidence-based psychotherapy that helps restructure thoughts and behaviors.
  • Classroom interventions: Helps educators make supportive accommodations for ADHD.
  • Stress management: Teaches positive outlets for stress relief.


Stimulants are the most common type of medication used to treat ADHD, including inattentive type. Stimulants help regulate chemical messengers in your brain, known as neurotransmitters.

Up to 80% of children living with ADHD see symptom improvement on these medications.

Common stimulants include:

  • amphetamines (Adderall, Evekeo, and Dexedrine)
  • methylphenidates (Ritalin, Focalin, and Concerta)

While stimulants are considered the first-line treatment choice for ADHD, non-stimulant medications are also available. These drugs typically take longer than stimulants to be effective but may have a longer duration of effect per dose.

Non-stimulant medications include:

Antidepressants can also be a part of your treatment plan if mood symptoms accompany ADHD.

Home management strategies

Home management strategies can help counter common challenges in ADHD, like inattention and distraction.

Children and adults can set themselves up for success by:

  • keeping a routine every day
  • limiting choices
  • breaking tasks down into small steps
  • asking for simple, clear instructions
  • rewarding yourself when tasks are completed
  • eliminate distractions, like background noise
  • use organizational tools like digital planners and alarms
  • create reminders and check-lists
  • reach out to a loved one for support in staying on task
  • focusing on healthy lifestyle habits like sleep hygiene, balanced nutrition, and regular exercise

ADHD inattentive type can be diagnosed by a mental health professional or a primary doctor using the diagnostic criteria outlined in the most current version of the DSM.

Because it’s not always easy for caregivers to distinguish between typical childhood behaviors and symptoms of ADHD, a diagnosis often involves discussions with parents, teachers, and other adults who spend significant time with a child.

For adults, the DSM criteria is also the benchmark for diagnosis, but only 5 of the symptoms listed need to be met, as opposed to the six required in children. In addition, there must also be evidence that those symptoms were present before the age of 12.

ADHD inattentive type describes ADHD with primary symptoms of inattention and poor concentration. It’s one of three types of ADHD, but it isn’t a separate diagnosis.

Like other presentations of ADHD, inattentive type is treated through therapy and medication.

Children and adults are diagnosed using the same criteria outlined in the DSM-5-TR, though the number of symptoms present for diagnosis is slightly lower for adults.