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“Why Are We Still Failing Kids with Inattentive ADHD?”

“We are still relying on research done years ago on white, hyperactive boys. There are few studies and fewer insights on girls and women. Likewise, children with inattentive ADHD (formerly called ADD) continue to fly under the radar. Why?”

I left the world of ADHD, where I had been the founder and director of the now-defunct non-profit organization ADD Resources, more than 15 years ago. Then, during the pandemic, I began writing a memoir about living with ADD and so dove into updating my knowledge. What I learned dismayed me.

We are still relying on research done years ago on white, hyperactive boys. There are few studies and fewer insights on girls and women. Likewise, boys and girls with inattentive ADHD (formerly called ADD) continue to fly under the radar.

Why? Recent articles offer the same old explanation from decades ago: Children with inattentive ADHD are under-diagnosed because they are not disruptive in the classroom. In 15 years, we haven’t progressed. We still provide the same unacceptable explanation for failing to help these children. Some clinicians have sounded the alarm, but their clarion calls haven’t penetrated the public or teachers’ understanding that ADHD presents in two distinct ways — with and without hyperactivity.

To prevent from children from falling through the cracks, the public, parents and teachers need to realize that both ADHD presentations require urgent diagnosis and treatment.

I have a few suggestions that might help.

[Could Your Child Have ADD (aka Inattentive ADHD)? Take This Test]

1. Elevate Inattentive ADHD: Whenever someone writes or talks about ADHD, they should first talk about the inattentive symptoms, stressing how this form of ADHD is under-diagnosed and how this needs to change because undiagnosed ADHD negatively impacts young lives. They should describe how inattentive ADHD symptoms may be recognized by parents and teachers. When I asked Dr. Hallowell if inattentive ADHD could be identified in children, he readily said, “Yes. You just need to question them about how they spent their time in school, how their day went, what they learned.”

2. Children with Inattentive ADHD are typically not aggressive; they are not bullies; and they usually aren’t disrespectful of authority or overly stubborn. In describing ADHD behaviors, speakers and writers should clearly delineate hyperactive symptoms from inattentive symptoms. When the behaviors are combined or confounded, parents or teachers of a child with inattentive ADHD may say, “That doesn’t describe my child or student.”

3. In describing inattentive symptoms, speakers and authors often say this presentation is more commonly observed in girls. To increase awareness, we need to stress that inattentive ADHD exists in boys as well as girls. I know because I have a son with inattentive ADHD.

4. We need research that separates hyperactive-impulsive or combination ADHD from inattentive ADHD. Most research lumps all forms of ADHD together, though they are not the same.

[Read: “Are You Listening?” What Inattentive ADHD Looks Like — and Responds To]

5. Knowledge and understanding about the differences is improving, but more progress is needed. If you share my concern about the under-diagnosis of children with inattentive ADHD, visit iadhd.org, the website of the non-profit organization, the Inattentive ADHD Coalition. Together, we will find ways to make a lasting difference.

ADD Symptoms: Next Steps


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1 Comments & Reviews

  1. I would love to see some additional information regarding Inattentive ADHD and Giftedness. My daughter was identified gifted at age 7 and experience significant problems once she started high school. She was ultimately diagnosed with Inattentive ADHD at age 30 after struggling for years to understand why she couldn’t preform at the same level as her peers. As parents we could have done so much more to support her if we had known. She was very good at masking her struggles as a teenager and it was only as an adult that she decided to address her challenges due to debilitating anxiety attacks and self-esteem issues.

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