What does inattention look like in ADHD adults

This blog post was created from referencing the DSM5, it is for peer support purposes and does not serve as a form of self diagnosis. This is supposed to be informative and if you feel you identify with a few of these traits listed in the diagnostic criteria you should seek advice from your general practitioner.

Inattention components:

Fails to pay attention to details: A useful example of this might be, missing vital information in verbal direction. If they are given a list of instructions, step 1, do this, step 2, do that – by the time a person with ADHD arrives at step 5, that might be the only step they remember. Or they struggle to remember in what order the instructions were given.

Another way to look at failure to pay attention to detail is when reading the ingredients in a recipe, some how missing a step all together. Or reading the cooking instructions on the back of the packet and having to check the same step several times, losing the instruction while it is stored in short term memory.

Difficulty sustaining attention: This could be towards anything. Often if it is with a special interest a person with ADHD has, they can have very good attention as they can hyper focus on this type of stimuli. Where it can be incredibly difficult to sustain attention towards something they find boring. Another way of looking at this is when an ADHD person is in an environment that has many distractions that a neuro typical person generally tends to be able to block out. An ADHDer will notice the minor distraction and it will steal their attention – it’s not that a person with ADHD has a ‘deficit’ of attention, it’s just all over the place.

Difficulty listening: They are listening but the world is full of all types of sensory distractions. Again with short term memory impairments, it literally goes “In one ear and out the other”. Some times it is also hard to sustain attention towards something that is not stimulating.

Trouble following through on tasks: This could look like many unfinished projects, things put on the back burner and struggling to prioritize the task as important until it is urgent as the ADHD brain doesn’t do well unless the consequences are closer in time. This often presents itself when given an extensive amount of time to achieve a task – As an example many ADHD people will talk about this being an issue when having to write an essay etc

Avoiding tasks that require prolonged mental effort: Avoidance can often take the form of something simple like not doing the dishes. A person with ADHD may tend to break down the task into smaller components to not get overwhelmed by them. Some days are better than others, some days a person with ADHD could do all the housework – other days they might only be able to wipe down the kitchen bench.

In more serious situations this could be like trying to reach a long term goal, this plays on the inability to follow through on a task, there may be a point where it becomes too much to do when it comes to the mental Olympics and when everything else in a person with ADHD’s life also requires that stamina, they usually pick the easier task as it requires less of them.

Loses important items: This is often their phone, credit card, ID, car keys, house keys etc. Or it could be something they just had in their hand and they have put it down but lost to short term memory impairment, cannot recall where that place was.

Easily distracted: This is probably the one thing most people will easily notice in someone with ADHD, their attention can be stolen by anything in an environment, including anything as simple as looking at their own hands. The distraction can be in any form and it is not something they have control over.

These type of distractions can occur in a conversation where they forget what they were just talking about because of a minor distraction – often this trail of thought can be lost forever.

Forgetful: Despite their best efforts, people living with ADHD can be very forgetful, especially if what they need to remember doesn’t have an external representation. A person with ADHD will need to make lists or some kind of reminder to keep those tasks in the forefront of their minds. However a person with ADHD for example could have an alarm set to take their medication but in the space of getting their medication to take it (out of their wallet, pill container etc) they may get distracted and forget what they were just doing.


Published by Jenn has ADHD

Jenn Parker, New Zealand. ADHD Advocate and Peer. jennhasadhd.com

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