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Written by:Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW

Published On: July 20, 2022

Medically reviewed by: Kate Rosenblatt, MA, LPC, LMHC

Reviewed On: July 20, 2022

Updated On: June 22, 2023


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common mental health condition that can cause distractibility, impulsiveness, and occasionally hyper behavior. Though research varies, experts estimate that the prevalence of ADHD in American school-aged children is somewhere between 8.4% and almost 10%.

While it’s a common diagnosis, the name can be somewhat misleading, because despite the word “hyperactivity” being in there, not every child (or adult, for that matter) with ADHD will exhibit the symptom of being hyperactive. The truth is, many children with ADHD can acutely focus on particular tasks.

There are 3 types or categories of ADHD that people commonly fall into. Regardless of which one it is, almost all people with ADHD will struggle with at least some degree of distractibility, focus, and inattention issues that negatively impact their daily lives, whether it is professionally, personally, or school-related. That said, each of the 3 types of ADHD has its own characteristics.

“There are several types of attention disorders that include levels of inattentiveness, impulsivity and hyperactivity, and also combined. Oftentimes, one might be inclined to self-diagnose, but a professional can help you better understand the nature of your symptoms and steps to create a robust treatment plan to help you cope if you are struggling. Symptoms can feel overwhelming if you’re feeling challenged in school or at work, but slowing down and gaining some perspective can help you feel reassured about navigating forward.”

Licensed Certified Social Worker-Clinical, (LCSW-C), LICSW, MSW Elizabeth Keohan

Below, we’ll discuss each type, their symptoms, and how to deal with ADHD specific to each type.

Inattentive and Distractible Type ADHD

People with distractive or inattentive ADHD will experience more issues with staying focused than they will with hyperactivity. Although boys are more often diagnosed with ADHD, it’s likely that the prevalence in girls, especially when considering the inattentive type ADHD, might be just as high.

Signs and symptoms of inattentive and distractible type ADHD

Inattentive and distractible type ADHD was formerly known as just attention deficit disorder, or ADD. Now, this form is referred to as inattentive and distractible type ADHD.

People with this ADHD subtype will have some of the following symptoms:

  • Easily distracted
  • Problems focusing on school or work-related tasks
  • Does not appear to pay attention when you are speaking (even when there is no obvious distraction)
  • May begin lessons but quickly lose focus
  • Make careless mistakes in school or at work
  • Not paying close attention to details
  • Difficulty completing schoolwork or tasks or following through on instructions
  • Problems organizing personal belongings — may have a messy desk, binders, and notebooks
  • Often miss deadlines
  • Forgetting daily tasks, such as doing chores and running errands
  • Avoiding tasks that require continued effort, like completing forms
  • Frequently losing things like homework, backpacks, books, cell phone, and sunglasses

Impulsive/Hyperactive Type ADHD

The impulsive ADHD type is marked by increased impulsivity and/or hyperactivity. This is one of the types of ADHD that’s most recognizable and is more often diagnosed in boys.

Signs and symptoms of impulsive/hyperactive type ADHD

People who are impulsive/hyperactive ADHD diagnosed will have some of the following symptoms:

  • Not able to stay seated whether in a classroom or any workplace
  • Constantly moving or “on the go”
  • Unable to play or do leisure activities quietly
  • Difficulty waiting in line
  • Hard time with taking turns
  • Fidgeting or squirming in a seat
  • Interrupting others
  • Running or climbing (especially where it’s inappropriate)
  • Talking too much
  • Blurting out an answer before a question is finished

Combination Type ADHD

Doctors will diagnose people with combination type ADHD if they meet the criteria for both the inattentive and hyperactive types of ADHD.

Signs and symptoms of combination type ADHD

Combined ADHD symptoms include both inattention and hyperactivity. People with ADHD combined type may be unable to sit still without fidgeting and they’re generally very easily distracted.

The range and intensity of symptoms in combination ADHD can vary from person to person. One person might experience extreme restlessness and the need to move. Another may not be able to take turns without cutting in line but might not have a problem with restlessness.

Treatment for the Types of ADHD

The most effective form of ADHD treatment can be different for everyone. Recommendations are based on the different types of ADHD and the severity of symptoms, but treatment often includes a combination of both therapy and ADHD medication.

“Largely in adults, ADHD can indicate trouble focusing while it can also hamper relationships and sometimes issues with work but certainly it is treatable and it can be managed. Help in understanding how to better prioritize can offer some measure of relief from stress due to impatience, impulsivity and sometimes mood as a result. Consult with a therapist or a medical provider to self educate about treatment options including medications or therapies that can help with executive functioning.”

Licensed Certified Social Worker-Clinical, (LCSW-C), LICSW, MSW Elizabeth Keohan


Therapy can help someone with ADHD learn to manage their symptoms. The types of ADHD in adults can be the same as in children. For children with ADHD, therapy that is recommended does include things like CBT, but also includes things like family therapy, parent-child interaction therapy, social skills training, etc.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is beneficial for most people with ADHD. However, CBT works best for older children. CBT helps the client see how their thoughts and feelings are connected to their behaviors. CBT works for ADHD by the therapist supporting the client in prraccticing more self-control of their behaviors.

For most people with ADHD, school and work can be overwhelming. A CBT therapist can help them figure out how to make tasks more manageable.


Many ADHD medications on the market can help people manage their symptoms, especially when used in conjunction with therapy. The medicines are broken into two main types:

  • Stimulant medication
  • Non-stimulants

Stimulants are the most commonly prescribed medications for how to treat ADHD. Some start to work in as little as 20 – 30 minutes, while others may take an hour or longer for the full effects to kick in. In addition, some stimulants are shorter lasting, while others can last 10 – 12 hours. Be sure to look into the side effects of stimulants as they can result in trouble sleeping and decreased appetite. If your child with ADHD is experiencing these symptoms, it is important to inform the prescriber.

Stimulant groups include methylphenidate (both short and long-lasting) and amphetamine (both short and long-lasting).

Some common methylphenidate stimulants are:

  • Ritalin-SR
  • Focalin XR
  • Concerta
  • Focalin

Some common amphetamine stimulants are:

  • Adderall-XR
  • Adzenys XR ODT
  • Azstarys
  • Dexedrine

Only a doctor or therapist can help determine the best medication for specific symptoms. Because of the different types and nuances to ADHD, finding a prescriber that specializes in ADHD may be the best way to get support.

There are also non-stimulant medications that might help people manage their ADHD. Doctors often prescribe non-stimulant variations when someone experiences side effects from or hasn’t found success with stimulants.

Non-stimulant drugs differ from how stimulants work because they enhance norepinephrine activity in the brain. Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter connected to attention, similar to dopamine. One drawback to this class of drugs is the benefits can take 4 – 6 weeks to appear.

Some common non-stimulants are:

  • Strattera
  • Tenex
  • Intuniv
  • Kapvay

Since there are 3 types of ADHD, all with varying symptoms and intensity levels, it’s not uncommon to need to try more than one medication or to experiment with doses before finding the perfect solution. Sometimes, antidepressants might be prescribed off-label to treat ADHD (meaning, it isn’t what a medication was intended to treat, but it might be helpful).

*Note: There is a black box label warning about the potential link between the use of antidepressants to treat ADHD and suicidal thoughts

Seek Professional Help with Talkspace

Many pediatricians will diagnose ADHD based on information from both parent and teacher surveys and input. Understanding behavior in a variety of settings can be instrumental in making an accurate diagnosis.

Adults can also see their primary care physician to start the diagnostic process. Again, it’s important to understand that the types of ADHD in adults are the same as in children, but symptoms can vary a bit.

Whether you’re advocating for your child or yourself, a complete check-up with a doctor is a good place to start if you think ADHD might be contributing to difficulties in life. Be aware that a doctor might decide to run bloodwork to rule anything else out.

You can also go to a psychiatrist or a therapist with concerns about ADHD. Mental health professionals, like those at Talkspace, can thoroughly evaluate symptoms and determine if there are other mental health conditions that may be causing symptoms.

Talkspace is an online therapy platform that makes getting treatment easy. Many options are available if you’re diagnosed with ADHD, and our therapists and doctors are skilled at addressing this and any other mental health condition. Unfortunately, treatment is never a one-size-fits-all approach, and what works for one person may not work for another.

However, with so many different medications and types of therapy for ADHD, a Talkspace therapist can help you figure out how to effectively manage your symptoms. For many people who experience minor ADHD symptoms, therapy might be all that’s needed to help them learn effective coping skills, time management, and organization.

You don’t have to let Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder control you and your life. Help is available, and Talkspace’s online therapy can be the great resource for you to access it.

See References

Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW

Licensed Talkspace Therapist, Elizabeth Keohan has enjoyed working with clients in communities from Washington DC through rural Maine over the course of her career. While she has worked extensively with those experiencing anxiety and depression, she embodies a unique comfort working with the bereaved. Elizabeth combines a compassionate, holistic approach with Cognitive Behavioral Theory (CBT), to help clients counter their somatic response to stress, anxiety, mood, grief and loss.

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