The 3 Types of ADHD

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral disorder that can interfere with regular daily activities. In 2016, an estimated 6.1 million (9.4%) of U.S. children aged 2–17 years had ever received an ADHD diagnosis.

ADHD usually develops in childhood but can continue into adulthood. There are three major types of ADHD: inattentive, impulsive-hyperactive, or combination.

In this article, you will learn more about the types of ADHD, how the condition is diagnosed, and the treatment options available.

Female student finding it difficult to study and comprehend school tasks

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What Is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects behavior. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood, but adults can also have ADHD. People with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors, and they may be overly restless.

ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed mental disorder in children. Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls, but that does not mean that girls are less likely to have ADHD. Symptoms in girls may be more subtle, which can lead to a missed diagnosis.

Types

There are three main types of ADHD. Because ADHD symptoms vary in each individual, it's important to learn about each type so you can recognize which one you or a loved one may be dealing with, including:

  • Inattentive: The main symptoms of this type include a lack of focus, frequent inattention, and disorganization.
  • Impulsive/Hyperactive: People dealing with this type show no inattentiveness, but are restless and fidgety. The individual often has trouble with impulsivity.
  • Combined: This is the most common ADHD subtype, in which individuals show symptoms of the other two types.

Inattentive

People with inattentive ADHD tend to have difficulty maintaining focus and being attentive. It’s often difficult for people with inattentive type ADHD to pay attention and engage in organized activities for long periods of time.

Some behaviors and symptoms people with this type of ADHD include:

  • Having a short attention span 
  • Being easily distracted 
  • Being unable to pay close attention to details 
  • Having difficulty listening when being spoken to 
  • Being forgetful when performing everyday activities 
  • Constantly losing things like keys, books, and phones
  • Struggling with engaging in organized tasks and activities 
  • Finding it difficult to follow instructions 

Girls are more likely to have inattentive ADHD, and sometimes the symptoms are less obvious so they may be missed by parents, doctors, and school staff.

Impulsive/Hyperactive

People with this form of ADHD will exhibit hyperactive and impulsive behaviors but have no symptoms of inattention. People with this form of ADHD may move around constantly and fidget excessively.

Symptoms of impulsivity include:

  • Interrupting others 
  • Acting without thinking 
  • Having difficulty waiting their turn 
  • Blurting out the answer to a question before it has been completed

Symptoms of hyperactivity usually include the following behaviors: 

  • Restlessness 
  • Talking excessively 
  • Being unable to focus on one task at a time 
  • Excessive fidgeting 
  • Being unable to engage in any activities quietly 

Combination

This is the most common form of the condition. People with this type of ADHD experience a combination of impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention symptoms.

A diagnosis of combined type ADHD in a child requires that six or more symptoms of inattention and six or more symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity be present for at least six months. Those 17 years or older require five or more of each.

Recap

There are three types of ADHD, depending on the behaviors the person exhibits. Inattentive ADHD symptoms include a lack of focus, frequent inattention, and disorganization.

Impulsive/hyperactive ADHD may present with restlessness and problems with impulsivity. Combined ADHD is a combination of impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention symptoms.

Diagnosis

There is no single medical, physical, or genetic test for ADHD, but a diagnosis can be provided by a qualified mental healthcare professional or physician who gathers information from multiple sources.

Healthcare providers use the guidelines in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), to help diagnose ADHD. The manual details nine behaviors and symptoms for hyperactivity/impulsivity and nine behaviors and symptoms for inattention.

A child is diagnosed with ADHD when they display at least six of the behaviors and symptoms listed for either type. While an adult or teenager is required to exhibit at least five of these symptoms, the symptoms must also be so severe as to disrupt a person’s regular functioning. 

Recap

Although there is no single test for ADHD, a diagnosis can be provided by a qualified mental healthcare professional or physician using the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 guidelines.

When to Talk to Your Doctor

If you suspect your child has ADHD or if you think you may have the condition, you will need to make an appointment with a qualified physician or mental health expert to get a diagnosis. They’ll typically ask for a detailed account of you or your child’s symptoms, mood, and medical history.

Is ADHD a Disability?

ADHD is a disability in the United States under certain conditions. ADHD is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if ADHD is severe and interferes with a person's capacity to work or engage in the public sector.

Treatment

There is no cure for ADHD, but treatment can reduce symptoms and enable a person to have improved daily functioning.

ADHD is typically treated with a combination of medication and therapy. However, finding the ideal treatment for you or your child’s ADHD depends on many factors.

Your doctor will consider your or your child’s age, and the severity of the symptoms before recommending a treatment plan. Treatment could include either one or a combination of the following options.

Medication

The two types of ADHD medications commonly used are:

  • Stimulants: These improve the ability to ignore distractions and focus thoughts. The most commonly used stimulants are Ritalin (methylphenidate) and Adderall (dextroamphetamine). Studies show that stimulants improve ADHD symptoms in approximately 70% of adults and 70%–80% of children.
  • Non-stimulant medicines: Non-stimulants include Strattera (atomoxetine), Intuniv (guanfacine), and Kapvay (clonidine). A 2009 study found that guanfacine improved working memory, lowered distractibility, and improved delayed gratification as well as behavioral flexibility in those with ADHD.

Therapy

Research suggests that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be an effective tool for adults managing ADHD. CBT can help you process negative thought patterns and behaviors in order to change your perspective, make more beneficial decisions over time, and improve your relationships.

Behavioral therapy may be offered to your child. Teachers and parents who are trained in behavior therapy can help children replace disruptive behaviors with positive ones. Tools like goal setting, reward systems, and organizational skills can help reinforce positive behaviors with regular feedback. 

Summary

There are three major types of ADHD: inattentive, impulsive-hyperactive, or combination.

Inattentive ADHD is characterized by a lack of focus, frequent inattention, and disorganization. Impulsive/hyperactive ADHD may present with restlessness and problems with impulsivity. Combined is a combination of impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention symptoms.

Treatment for any type of ADHD may include medication, therapy, or a combination of both.

A Word From Verywell

If you think you or your child may have ADHD, your first step should be talking with your healthcare provider. They can help you find an experienced practitioner who can help diagnose the condition. Once diagnosed, your healthcare provider can help you create a treatment plan to help you manage your symptoms and live well with ADHD.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What’s the difference between ADD and ADHD?

    "ADD" is a now-outdated term that is typically used to describe inattentive-type ADHD, which has symptoms of disorganization, lack of focus, and forgetfulness. ADHD is the official, medical term for the condition—regardless of whether a patient demonstrates hyperactivity.

  • What type of ADHD do I have?

    People with inattentive ADHD have difficulty sustaining attention, following detailed instructions, and organizing tasks and activities. People with hyperactive ADHD may talk nonstop, interrupt others, blurt out answers, and struggle with self-control. People with combined-type ADHD demonstrate symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity and impulsivity.

  • Is ADHD a mental illness?

    Although ADHD falls into the defined category of mental illness, it’s most often referred to as a disorder, even by the American Psychiatric Association. As these terms are sometimes used interchangeably in clinical settings, ADHD can be described as a mental illness and a disorder.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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