Explaining inattentive ADHD

The hyperactive version of ADHD is well-known and often spotted, but students with inattentive ADHD frequently go undiagnosed, as Daniel Sobel knows from his own experience and writes in SecEd.

I remember well that I simply couldn’t concentrate. My GP asked me how I cope now with writing books, articles and running an ever-growing business supporting around 1,000 schools. I tell him that “well, I have two PAs”, which may sound overly indulgent to most but without that support I doubt I could operate as others might. 

This is my way of saying that the topic of this article is very personal and I genuinely hope it reaches out to colleagues and has some impact in your school. The hyperactive version of ADHD is well-known and talked about – and thankfully so. This article is about the inattentive ADHD and how it so often, cruelly, goes unnoticed.

George is 10 and is in his SATs year. He appears to mess around in the classroom and can’t seem to focus on his phonics, reading and writing, which are two years below his expected level – and his teacher is frustrated with him. 

One day a teaching assistant takes George aside and tries to find out what’s going on for him. He says: “I get fed up with grown-ups telling me to pay attention. I try, but they want me to do too many things. Even in school the teacher expects me to remember everything. I can’t do the same work as the others, so why should I bother? I’m just stupid.”

Such an example is not uncommon, yet a diagnosis of inattentive ADHD (formerly known as ADD) will frequently get missed and instead mistaken for laziness – unlike hyperactive attention deficit with its distinct degrees of hyperactivity, impulsivity and adverse behaviour. 

Arguably, the most significant impact of not addressing ADHD appropriately is the sense of guilt, blame and low self-esteem which can develop. 

A typical undiagnosed student would express it thus: “I’m always told to concentrate, focus, and try harder, but I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I just know I’m not like the other kids, I’m not ‘normal’, and I feel like the worst student in the class.”

What to look out for? 

First, consider the child’s presentation:

  • Would you describe him as a “day-dreamer”?
  • Does he struggle to maintain concentration?
  • Does he work slowly but “get there in the end”?
  • Does he become emotional or frustrated when trying to concentrate?

 Inattentive ADHD can lead to a lifetime of struggle for people who don’t get help with it at school.

Read more signs of what to look out for and suggestions on how to help in the classroom Explaining inattentive ADHD

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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