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What is Inattentive ADHD and How to Help Someone Who Has It

Workarounds to help minimize Inattentive ADHD Problems

Dennis and Gracie, a young married couple, had been best friends during high school but found themselves in uncharted territory when Dennis revealed that he had been diagnosed with ADHD as a teenager. This information explained to Gracie why dealing with him was often very difficult. Sometimes, what he did and said seemed like it was from outer space.

The other day, when they were sitting across from each other at the kitchen table, Gracie was telling Dennis about the project she was working on. She looked up, and he was totally gone. He was looking in her direction, but he was off somewhere else in his mind. His eyes had a faraway look.

“Dennis. Dennis. Are you listening?” Gracie asked.

“Yeah, yeah, you were talking about… umm…I guess I wasn’t listening. Could you please say it again?”

“It doesn’t really matter. I was just talking about my project,” Gracie said with a hurt look. “I’ve noticed you spacing out a lot lately. Is anything wrong?”

“No, nothing is wrong…well, I guess there is…”

“What is it,” Gracie asked.

“Well, I’ll be honest. I missed a couple of deadlines. A customer came in to pick up his order. It wasn’t finished…and, well,” he mumbled.


“I was asleep on the couch in the back room when he came in.”

“What?? You were asleep?? Is that because you’re staying up late every night? Is that why you’re spacing out?”

Gracie had been noticing his inattentiveness recently. Sometimes, she had to ask him for his attention before he actually heard her. She started researching and she discovered how to create workarounds, and strategies to deal with it.

How does Inattentive ADHD differ from normal ADHD

As doctors and neuroscientists discover more about ADHD they upgrade the definition and application of the term. A reclassification occurred in 1994 when the APA recategorized ADHD into three types: primarily inattentive, primarily hyperactive-impulsive, and a combination of both types. In 2013, the APA again redefined ADHD as three “presentations,” meaning how ADHD affects each individual.

Inattentiveness is an ADHD characteristic easily overlooked during diagnosis, or misdiagnosed as a mood disorder. Its presentation is often misleading.

People with “inattentive” ADHD can be lost in their own thoughts, or be hyperfocused on something of interest. These modes can switch on and off rapidly. A person with Inattentive ADHD who is off in “Lala Land” can suddenly be so hyperfocused that they don’t hear anything that is said or anything going on around them.

When a person appears to not be interested in what they are doing or what is going on around them or it’s difficult to get their attention, they are considered inattentive. For example: if ADHD sufferers at work are trying to complete projects that they are not interested in, they may get bored and distracted by what is on their phone or something else happening in the office or in their own mind. This may cause them to miss a deadline or complete a task haphazardly.

A child with inattentive ADHD often goes unnoticed in a classroom because they do not disrupt the class with hyperactivity. They quietly get distracted by something that holds their attention. Assignments may get completed, but not to the best of their ability.

Another characteristic is forgetfulness. If the person is not focused on the subject, the task at hand, or what is being said they, very often, will not remember what was said or what they were to do.

Also, they often lose items because they are not focused when they lay the item down. A friend was looking for something he couldn’t find. I could see it on the desk where he left it, but he couldn’t see it while standing right behind me. I asked him why he couldn’t see it. His answer was surprising. He said he had an image in his mind of what he expected to see. If what he saw didn’t match the image in his head, he couldn’t see it.

People with ADHD live in a curvilinear world

According to scientific research, those with ADHD tend to live in a curvilinear world where the past, present, and future are not completely separate or distinct. They, to differing degrees, view everything as now and can have difficulty learning from the past or looking into the future.

When impulsivity combines with their curvilinear worldview, they “act or speak without thinking.” They may not have the ability to see how their actions or words impact their lives or the lives of others around them because they do not have a future frame of reference. Everything is in the now. They sometimes think that if their actions or words don’t impact or get them in trouble now, they won’t in the future. But, sometimes they cause major problems.

This also impacts them in planning and organizing tasks. In the neurotypical world, when beginning a project, we see the beginning, middle, and end. But ADHDers sometimes don’t know where to start since they, too often, start in the middle of an idea or project and work in all directions at once. As a result, the organization of a task is unsustainable because organizational systems operate on a linear plane where time, sequence, and priority are important.

When an inattentive ADHDer is asked to plan or organize a project, he or she can become overwhelmed or frustrated with the task. Often tasks are dropped or never completed.

Dennis and Gracie deal with inattentiveness

Dennis sat on the couch watching the ten o’clock news on the television. His head would periodically drop to his chest and he would start snoring.

“Dennis, Dennis, wake up,” Gracie said. “If you’re that tired go to bed.”

“I think I will,” he said as he slowly got up and moseyed toward the bedroom. He didn’t bother to put his night clothes on. He just crawled into bed.

Gracie finished the project she had been working on. It took her about another hour. She turned off all the lights and went into the bedroom. Dennis’s bed was empty.

She stopped for a moment and listened. Hearing the whirring sound of his grinder in the basement, she walked toward the hallway and saw the light coming in around the basement door. She opened the door as the whirring stopped. She yelled down, “Dennis, I thought you were tired and going to bed?”

No answer.


The whirring of the grinder started again.

“I guess his hyperfocus has kicked in again,” Gracie said as she closed the door, walked into the bedroom, crawled into bed, and was soon fast asleep. She had become accustomed to the whirring of the grinder. It had become white noise to her.

Dennis had begun doing woodwork with his dad at a very early age. In his late teens, he apprenticed under a cabinet maker and later opened his own shop doing custom cabinets. He had a shop downtown, but still maintained his hobby shop in the basement.

When he got an idea for something he would go downstairs and work on it, no matter the time.

Gracie worked as an accounting clerk at a local business and had to be at work by 7 am every morning.

When her alarm sounded at 5 am, she looked over at Dennis’s bed. Still empty. She could hear the sound of pounding coming from the basement.

She went to the basement door, opened it, and slowly walked down the stairs.

“Gracie, look at this little cabinet I just made.”

Gracie looked at it through eyes that were barely open, “That’s great. Very creative.”

“Did I wake you up?” Dennis asked.

“No. My alarm just went off. It’s 5 am. You haven’t gone to bed?”

“No. I had to finish this. I have a customer that might like it. I’ll go to sleep now. I don’t have any appointments until 2 pm this afternoon. I’ll set my alarm for noon. Can you call me at noon to make sure I get up?”

“So your shop is going to be closed until 2 pm?” Gracie asked. “What if someone came to your shop earlier? You could lose a customer.”

Gracie turned to look at Dennis when he didn’t answer her. He was in bed with his clothes on snoring as if he had been in bed for hours.

Gracie shrugScientificged her shoulders and went about getting ready for work.

Lack of sleep

Bill Bryson, an award-winning author, states in his book The Body,

“…no one knows exactly why we sleep — to consolidate memories, reset the immune system, restore hormonal balance, or clear metabolic waste and neurotoxins? While all of these processes do happen while we sleep, science still cannot say for certain why we need it so.”

Other studies show a relationship between lack of sleep and Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Gracie helps Dennis with a sleep workaround

Gracie began studying how to create and apply a “workaround” to help Dennis.

The research showed that if the ADHDer did not agree wholeheartedly to the workaround, it wouldn’t work. So, Gracie read Bill Bryson’s report about sleep and showed the report to Dennis hoping that would persuade him to cooperate.

“That’s interesting, but I don’t think it applies to me,” Dennis said. “Besides, I can’t go to sleep at 9 pm like you do. I’d toss and turn all night. I’m used to staying up until at least 3 am. I work better after midnight.”

Gracie asked. “How many customers come in before noon?”

“Well, actually, I do get more customers before noon and after 4 pm. Between noon and 4 pm, it’s dead. Well, maybe I could use a sleep schedule.”

He sat quietly. Finally, he said, ”To be honest, the other day a customer came in to pick up his project. It wasn’t finished. The customer was very upset.”

Dennis hung his head in shame. After a long pause, “And I was asleep on the sofa. I hadn’t slept at all the night before.”

“Okay,” Gracie said, “Are you ready to cooperate?”

He nodded in compliance.

Daily, they set up his tasks for the evening with start times for each project and alarms to tell him when he needed to wind down the project and get ready for bed.

Even though Gracie was already asleep, Dennis knew what to do and when. He had agreed to follow the schedule. On weeknights, he agreed to be in bed by 11:30 pm.

He discovered that reading made him sleepy so he started reading devotional books in bed at 11:30 pm and by midnight he was fast asleep.


As Dennis grew accustomed to the new sleep schedule. He found he was more rested and alert and more productive at work. No more naps during the day.

He still had some problems scheduling his work projects, but Gracie agreed to help him with the scheduling.

The hyperfocused incidents were usually relegated to Friday and Saturday nights when he could sleep in the next day.

There were still a few timing and communication glitches that needed to be worked out, like getting and holding his attention in a normal give-and-take conversation.

Gracie had grown accustomed to “taking up the slack,” when things that needed to be done were overlooked. As Dennis got more sleep, the fog began to clear and he could see the responsibilities that Gracie managed.

One day he asked, “Babe, how can I be of more help to you? I see how hard you work at keeping our home running smoothly. I would like for us to figure out how I can use my time more efficiently and take some of the load off your shoulders.”

Gracie looked up, stunned, “Who are you? And what have you done with my husband?”

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