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Inattentive-Type ADHD Often Misdiagnosed, Misunderstood

By Stefanie Hamilton

According to the National Resource Center on ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is defined as "a condition affecting children and adults that is characterized by problems with attention, impulsivity, and overactivity."

Because the word "overactivity" is included in the definition, inattentive-type ADHD often gets overlooked.

What is Inattentive-Type ADHD?

Inattentive-type ADHD is characterized by difficulty focusing for extended periods of time; distractability; lack of organization; and, hypo- rather than hyper-activity. It is more likely to occur in girls, and is far less likely to be diagnosed.

  • Kids with inattentive-type ADHD don't get in troubled for disrupting the class, but they may not fare any better in school than their hyperactive counter-parts.
  • Their lack of focus is turned inward.
  • They daydream, rather than talking to the kids sitting next to them.

Proper diagnosis of inattentive-type ADHD is important to a child's academic and social success. Learning disabilities are more likely to accompany inattentive-type ADHD, symptoms are less likely to reduce with age, and because inattentive-types are so often turned inward, they have a harder time initiating friendships.

Misdiagnosing Inattentive-Type ADHD

Dr. Barbara Howard, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in her article titled "The Other Face of ADHD: Inattentive Type," lists some other conditions that could look like inattentive-type ADHD, causing a misdiagnosis.

The first possible cause of inattention is hearing or vision difficulties. This is especially true in classroom settings. A child who has trouble hearing or seeing isn't going to pay much attention in class.

Another consideration is something Dr. Howard calls "social preoccupation." In other words, there could be life circumstances that are causing a child to lose focus.

  • Is a parent or sibling sick?
  • Is a parent out of work?
  • Does someone in the home abuse alcohol or drugs?
  • Is the child being subjected to physical or emotional abuse?

Learning ability should be tested as well. The child may simply not be able to keep up academically. On the other side is the possibility that the child is gifted, and is not paying attention in class because she's bored. If English is the child's second language, this could be causing problems, too.

Anxiety, according to Dr. Howard, can also cause inattentive-type symptoms.

  • A child with an anxiety disorder may be so consumed with her fears and worries that they take her focus away from other things.
  • If she internalizes her anxiety, her parents have no way of knowing that she's struggling.
  • All the parents understand is that their child "never pays attention"
  • Dr. Howard estimates that twelve to thirteen percent of her patients have anxiety disorders.

Treating Inattentive-Type ADHD

For a child with properly diagnosed inattentive-type ADHD, medication can help, but finding the right dosage may be trickier, as Dr. Howard says. Initial doses should be lower, and should be increased in smaller increments. Time-release, or extended-release medications are believed to work the best.

Environmental changes will be necessary for a child with inattentive-type ADHD. Parents will need to experiment will different communication methods, and will need to work with their child's school to develop an education plan that takes her ADHD into account.

Don't be fooled by the "hyperactivity" part of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Not all ADHD is characterized by hyperactivity. If your child has trouble paying attention in class and at home, and gets easily distracted from the task at hand, she may have an inattentive form of ADHD.


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