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The Implications of Inattentive Symptoms in School

They may be quiet and less immediately obvious from the outside, but the inattentive symptoms of ADHD can cause just as many problems in a school setting as hyperactive symptoms.

ClassroomTo give only a few examples of how inattentive symptoms can interfere with learning in a classroom environment:

  • It’s hard to learn anything from a lecture if you zone out for large portions of the lecture
  • Time management can make or break academic performance, and inattentive symptoms often lead to struggles with time management
  • Inattentive mistakes mean that ADHDers have trouble demonstrating what they know
  • The less reliable your ability to tell your brain to pay attention to something and have it listen, the more difficult it will be to absorb the information you need to know, whether through reading or listening

In fact, not that it’s a competition, but there’s a new study out suggesting that, at least in some situations, inattentive symptoms can cause more academic problems than hyperactive symptoms.

Analyzing data from a national survey of children with ADHD, the researchers found the following:

All inattentive symptoms were significantly related to reduced school performance in reading, writing, and handwriting, while 6 of 9 symptoms were significantly associated in mathematics.

They also found that children with the inattentive subtype of ADHD were more likely to receive IEP or 504 plans, consistent with the idea that these children’s symptoms tend to really interfere with their school performance.

On the bright side, at least some of these children are being recognized and given some support – even if that’s only because they are having such a hard time in school in the first place!

The point here isn’t that inattentive symptoms are “worse” than hyperactive symptoms (or vice-versa). As those of us with ADHD know from personal experience, both inattentive and hyperactive symptoms can cause plenty of problems, just in different ways.

Rather, the takeaway is that even if inattentive symptoms aren’t as externally disruptive as hyperactive symptoms, they have a significant effect on ADHDers’ lives.

This particular study highlights the effect in a school environment, but as we all know, the negative consequences of ADHD symptoms don’t necessarily go away when ADHDers become adults, take on new responsibilities, and enter the workforce!

Image: Flickr/Matthew Paulson

The Implications of Inattentive Symptoms in School

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2020). The Implications of Inattentive Symptoms in School. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 22 May 2020
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