Types of ADHD & ADD

Why Even Parents Miss the Signs of Inattentive ADHD In Their Quiet Daydreamers

For adults living with inattentive ADHD, succeeding in a world of noise and distraction can seem like an impossible dream. How one woman came to recognize, treat, and gather support for her symptoms.

An adult woman with inattentive ADHD, sitting near a bridge and looking at the landscape
Girl with ADHD sitting on rock on mountain with bridge in the background daydreaming about life

People with inattentive ADHD — adults and children alike — are often ignored and forgotten. Unlike the Wall Street occupiers, though, none of us will stage any kind of revolution. We inattentive types understand that our hyperactive brothers have swallowed up the attention of parents, teachers, and psychiatrists — and most of the ADHD research dollars out there — but we do not have it in us to occupy anything other than the world of our inner thoughts.

The reason for this has less to do with the fact that we are not the revolutionary type than with the fact that we worship our loud and unruly brethren with hyperactive ADHD. We are grateful to them for the cover they provide us. If it were not for them, someone might notice that we, the unassuming adults with inattentive ADHD (formally called ADD), are off in “La La Land.”

La La Land Is Home

Actually, neuroscientists may have found our brain’s “La La Land.” Researchers are able to see the brain daydreaming, and they are calling that state the brain’s default mode.

The default mode causes the brain to stray when you are trying to focus. It is the default mode that thinks thoughts like, “Boy, that cobweb on the wall has an interesting pattern.” It is the default mode that makes you doodle a design on your notebook when you are supposed to be paying attention to something important.

Apparently, as the brain ages, its ability to switch off the default mode starts to falter. The brain begins to process things more slowly and becomes less focused. I do not need an explanation of the brain’s default mode. I know it well.

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I grew up in a large Cuban extended family. Like most kids with inattentive ADHD, I was not a happy-go-lucky, gregarious child. I was introverted, anxious, finicky, uncoordinated, and distracted, but the fact that I was quiet was a blessing in my home. I was often the only person in our crowded house who was not talking.

School was much the same. My teachers were busy with the loud, disruptive children, and, though I could barely read, I was quiet. Testing showed that my IQ was OK. My mother knew something was wrong. I was tested, analyzed, and counseled, but nothing helped until I was in my late teens.

In high school, I was placed in a work-study program. By this time, I was an apathetic, distracted teenager with a bad attitude and a D average. The school thought that working might be the answer, so I worked as a nurse’s aide.

The nurses knew that I was a miserable student, and they took me on as their project. They taught and encouraged me, and I learned my duties quickly. I discovered that I was a hands-on learner, and I began to feel confident. The nurses that I worked with drank lots of coffee, so I began drinking it too.

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My inattentive symptoms started to improve. I became less introverted and anxious, more focused and assertive. Maybe it was the Cuban coffee I drank every morning, or maybe my brain matured, or maybe I found a way out of my brain’s default mode. It’s hard to say, but I was able to concentrate and work.

I decided to go to college and get a degree. I knew it would be an uphill battle; I had graduated high school with a 1.6 average. But exercise, to-do lists, timers, and a keen interest in what I was learning helped me accomplish my goal.

Success at Last

Today, I am a physician’s assistant in a busy emergency-medicine department. I have never taken ADHD medication; I am a testament to the benefits of behavioral interventions. I find that if I do not get regular exercise and drink my coffee, my address book may end up in the freezer and doodles will pop up.

Some people with inattentive ADHD are not so lucky. Our best bet for a cure may lie in new research on the aging brain. Discoveries may lead to other insights that lead to treatment for inattention. Many adults with inattentive ADHD will never get along in the world as well as those with hyperactive type, but some of us do beat the odds.

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