Yes, There Are Actually 3 Types of ADHD
Each type of ADHD has different treatment symptoms, and presents slightly differently in children and adults.
Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC
November 14, 2023
Table of Contents
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition that affects how people pay attention and control their impulses. The condition has become better understood in recent years, but most people don’t know that there are actually three types of ADHD: inattentive type, hyperactive-impulsive type, and combined type. Keep reading to learn about what the three types of ADHD mean, how they manifest in day-to-day life, and the best treatment options for each.
What do the 3 types of ADHD mean?
The three types of ADHD provide a way to categorize the different patterns of symptoms that people with ADHD may exhibit and are primarily used to help clinicians diagnose and understand ADHD. Although the categories are distinct, many people display a combination of symptoms from different types, and the severity can vary between different people. Here’s a more detailed explanation of what each type means:
Inattentive type ADHD
Inattentive type ADHD, commonly known as inattentive ADHD, is an ADHD subtype primarily characterized by difficulties with attention and focus. People with inattentive-type ADHD often struggle to stay on task, follow through on instructions, and pay attention to details. They may appear forgetful or disorganized and have trouble completing assignments or tasks. This type is sometimes referred to as “ADD” (attention deficit disorder), but that classification is no longer commonly used.
Hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD
Hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD, commonly known as hyperactive ADHD, is characterized by hyperactivity and impulsivity. People with this type may be very active, fidgety, and have difficulty sitting still. They tend to act without thinking, interrupt others frequently and may have trouble waiting their turn. Impulsivity can lead to hasty decision-making and difficulties in self-control.
Combined type ADHD
Combined type ADHD, commonly known as combined ADHD, is the most common form of ADHD. This type involves a combination of symptoms from both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive types. People with combined-type ADHD experience challenges with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. They may have difficulty focusing on tasks, be restless and fidgety, and act impulsively.
What do the 3 types of ADHD look like in daily life?
The three types of ADHD can manifest differently in daily life, impacting school performance, work, relationships, and daily routines. People with ADHD may struggle with time management, meeting deadlines, and following through on commitments. They might also find it challenging to maintain organized living spaces and can experience difficulties in social situations due to impulsivity or inattentiveness. Here’s more details on how each type may look:
1. Inattentive type ADHD
- Difficulty focusing on tasks or schoolwork.
- Forgetfulness, such as forgetting to complete assignments, chores, or appointments.
- Frequent careless mistakes in schoolwork or work projects.
- Struggles with organization and time management.
- Avoidance of tasks that require sustained mental effort.
- Frequent loss of items like keys, books, or phones.
- Difficulty following through on instructions and tasks.
- Daydreaming and being easily distracted by external stimuli.
2. Hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD
- Restlessness and difficulty sitting still, often fidgeting or tapping.
- Impulsivity, such as blurting out answers or interrupting others.
- Difficulty waiting one’s turn or being patient.
- Talking excessively and often not listening to others.
- Risky behaviors due to acting without thinking.
- Difficulty with self-control and managing emotions.
3. Combined type ADHD
- A combination of symptoms from both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive types.
- Challenges in maintaining focus and attention on tasks.
- Restlessness and difficulty remaining seated.
- Impulsivity and difficulty with self-control.
- Frequent forgetfulness and disorganization.
How do the 3 types of ADHD differ in child ADHD and adult ADHD?
The three types of ADHD can manifest differently in children and adults:
- Predominantly inattentive presentation: Trouble with attention to details and staying focused on tasks or activities.
- Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation: Difficulty waiting turns and impulsivity without considering consequences.
- Combined presentation: The most common ADHD presentation in children that involves a blend of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms.
- Predominantly inattentive presentation: Difficulty focusing on sustained mental effort and challenges with memory and responsibilities.
- Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation: Restlessness, impatience, and impulsive decision-making.
- Combined presentation: With age, people usually show less hyperactivity but ongoing inattention and impulsivity, leading to challenges in organizing tasks, managing time, and controlling impulses.
Predominantly inattentive presentation
- Children: Difficulty paying attention to details and sustaining attention in tasks or play activities.
- Adults: Trouble focusing on work requiring sustained mental effort and forgetfulness and difficulty following through on responsibilities.
Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation
- Children: Struggle with waiting turns and engaging in impulsive behaviors without considering consequences.
- Adults: Difficulty staying still and challenges with patience. They might make quick decisions without careful thought.
- Children: Exhibit a mix of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms. This is the most common ADHD presentation in children.
- Adults: Symptoms can change as people age, with reduced hyperactivity but continued inattention and impulsivity in adulthood. They may struggle with organization, time management, and impulsivity in both personal and professional settings.
How are the 3 types of ADHD diagnosed?
Getting an ADHD diagnosis of any kind involves a comprehensive assessment conducted by a qualified healthcare professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or pediatrician. A comprehensive assessment is crucial to accurately diagnose ADHD and determine the specific type and severity. Here are the steps commonly involved in the ADHD diagnostic process:
The healthcare professional will conduct a thorough clinical evaluation, which includes gathering information about the person’s medical history, developmental history, and current symptoms. They will also inquire about the presence of symptoms at home, school, work, or in social settings. The clinician will use specific criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to determine if the person meets the criteria for one of the three types of ADHD. To make an ADHD diagnosis, the symptoms must have persisted for at least six months and have caused significant impairment in daily life.
Observation and interviews
In some cases, the clinician will gather information from parents, teachers, or other caregivers to get a comprehensive view of the person’s behavior in various settings. These observations and interviews help to confirm the presence of ADHD symptoms and assess their impact on the person’s life.
It’s important to rule out any other medical conditions or factors that could be contributing to the ADHD symptoms. Other medical or psychiatric conditions with similar symptoms need to be considered and, if necessary, ruled out through a physical examination and appropriate medical tests.
In some cases, the healthcare professional may use standardized psychological tests to evaluate the person’s cognitive and emotional functioning. These tests can help provide a more complete picture of the person’s strengths and weaknesses.
Behavioral assessments, such as rating scales or checklists, are often used to quantify the severity of ADHD symptoms. These assessments may be completed by parents, teachers, or the person themselves.
The clinician will differentiate between the three types of ADHD based on the predominant symptoms and how they affect the person.
What’s the best treatment for the 3 types of ADHD?
Finding the best treatment for each of the three types of ADHD is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Once a diagnosis is made, healthcare professionals can develop an appropriate treatment plan based on a person’s specific needs and the severity of their symptoms—taking into consideration which type of ADHD they have. Most treatment plans involve a combination of therapy, medication, and behavioral interventions to help people manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
Counseling and psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can address the emotional and behavioral aspects of ADHD. Behavioral therapy is also helpful, as it helps people learn to manage their symptoms, develop coping strategies, and improve their behavior. ADHD medication, when prescribed by a healthcare professional, can be highly effective in managing symptoms, especially for the hyperactive-impulsive and combined types.
In addition to these interventions, educational support and classroom accommodations are essential for children with ADHD. Support can also include emotional and practical assistance from family, peers, and support groups. For some people, lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet, exercise, and adequate sleep, can complement other treatments.
ADHD support at Charlie Health
If you’re struggling with ADHD, Charlie Health is here to help.
Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) combines group sessions, individual counseling, and family therapy to support young people struggling with complex mental health issues—including those with ADHD. It can be hard to cope with the symptoms of ADHD, but getting an ADHD diagnosis and receiving the proper treatment and ADHD medication (as needed) can make daily life a bit easier.