Types of ADHD Explained

Medically Reviewed By Kendra Kubala, PsyD
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There are three common types of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They are called the predominately inattentive type, the predominately hyperactive-impulsive type, and the combined type. ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental childhood disorders. Children with ADHD often have difficulty paying attention and controlling their impulses. They may also be overactive. Doctors typically diagnose the condition in children, but it can last into adulthood.

This article defines each type of ADHD. It also explains how the types differ, discusses the treatment options, and provides tips for living with ADHD.

ADHD predominately inattentive type

Child and adult female painting in the sunlight
Valentina Barreto/Stocksy United (person appearing is a model and used for illustrative purposes only)

Someone with the predominately inattentive type of ADHD will typically find it difficult to pay attention. They may often get easily distracted or forget the details of their daily routine.

The symptoms of inattention may include:

  • overlooking or missing details
  • having difficulty sustaining attention
  • seeming not to listen during a conversation
  • finding it difficult to follow through or finish tasks
  • having difficulty organizing tasks or projects
  • avoiding tasks that require sustained attention
  • losing items
  • becoming distracted easily
  • being forgetful

ADHD predominately hyperactive-impulsive type

Someone with predominately inattentive ADHD may find it difficult to concentrate or maintain attention for extended periods. However, a person with predominately hyperactive-impulsive ADHD may have more physical difficulties. They may tend to fidget often, be restless, and talk a lot. They may also find it difficult to control their impulses.

A person may experience various symptoms of hyperactivity, such as:

  • fidgeting or squirming while sitting down
  • leaving their seat when others expect them to stay seated
  • running, dashing around, or climbing in inappropriate situations
  • being restless
  • being unable to perform tasks quietly
  • being constantly in motion or “on the go”
  • talking excessively
  • interrupting others
  • having difficulty waiting their turn

ADHD combined type

A person with the combined type of ADHD will present with symptoms of both of the other two types. Doctors may diagnose a child with the combined type if they exhibit this combination of symptoms for 6 months or more.

Most people experience inattention, impulsivity, and unfocused activity at some point. However, for those with ADHD, these behaviors tend to:

  • be more severe
  • occur more frequently
  • interfere with how they function on a daily basis

How do doctors treat ADHD?

Although there is no cure for ADHD, treatments are available to help manage the symptoms and improve daily functioning.

Medication

Many people with ADHD find that medication helps them focus better and reduces their hyperactivity. Medications that a doctor may recommend include:

  • Stimulants: These are the most common type of medication for treating ADHD. They work by increasing chemicals in the brain called dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals play an essential role in thinking and attention.
  • Nonstimulants: These may take longer to work than stimulants. They also work to improve attention, focus, and impulsivity. Doctors may prescribe nonstimulants if someone experiences bothersome side effects from stimulants.

Psychotherapy and psychosocial interventions

Many therapies and interventions can help those living with ADHD. The goal of these therapies and interventions is to help the person and their family manage the symptoms and improve day-to-day functioning.

The therapies and interventions that doctors commonly use to treat ADHD include:

  • behavioral therapy
  • cognitive behavioral therapy
  • family therapy
  • parenting skills training
  • behavioral classroom management or academic accommodations
  • stress management techniques

Learn more about behavioral therapy for treating ADHD.

What are tips for living with ADHD?

Living with ADHD is often challenging for both the individual and their loved ones. However, there are ways to help manage ADHD and minimize its effects on daily life.

Parents or caregivers

If you are caring for a child with ADHD, you may find that certain steps help make this more manageable. These include:

  • planning your days and establishing a routine
  • setting clear boundaries
  • staying positive
  • giving brief instructions and being specific
  • setting up an incentive schedule
  • trying to intervene early if the child is becoming overwhelmed
  • keeping social situations manageable and positive
  • encouraging the child to get plenty of regular exercise
  • keeping an eye on their diet for foods that may trigger symptoms
  • sticking to a bedtime routine
  • being open with your child’s teachers to establish an appropriate education plan
  • using positive reinforcement

Adults with ADHD

If you are an adult living with ADHD, there are ways to improve your day-to-day functioning and manage your symptoms. These include:

  • finding ways to help you stay organized, such as:
    • making lists
    • setting reminders
    • making time to put together a plan of things to do
  • exercising regularly
  • finding techniques that help you relax, such as:
    • breathing exercises
    • listening to music
    • yoga
  • being open with your employer or educators regarding the ways they can help you be more successful
  • finding a support group

Learn about nine signs of adult ADHD.

Summary

There are three types of ADHD, which have some similarities and some differences. For a doctor to diagnose ADHD, the symptoms must be present for 6 months or more, and they must interfere with day-to-day living and functioning.

Although ADHD is not curable, treatments are available to help manage the symptoms. A doctor can help you create the most effective treatment plan for your specific needs.

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Medical Reviewer: Kendra Kubala, PsyD
Last Review Date: 2022 Jul 28
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