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Column originally published Mar 29, 2016
Column last revised/updated on Jul 22, 2018

Inattentive Type Of ADHD

Question: I just heard a CBC broadcast about a teenager with ADHD. She was treated for anxiety for years and didn’t get better, until her psychologist recognized that she has ADHD. Her story was almost identical to mine. I was a big time daydreamer in school; all the teachers said that I would do better if I just focus. They didn’t understand that I couldn’t stop getting distracted by those around me and by my daydreaming. I spent hours trying to study every night, but I couldn’t remember the next day. I became very anxious over time. I have two children now. My daughter is just like me; her teachers have the same remark on her report cards. My younger son is more hyper, but he has no trouble learning. His teacher has asked me to get him assessed because he disrupts the classroom. I am debating whether I should do that, because he is still doing well in school.


I have heard that broadcast also. This is actually a very common problem, especially in girls. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is probably the most common neurological condition in children, far more common than autism. It was first reported in medical literature more than 100 years ago, but it is still being under-recognized by educators and physicians. It was believed to affect mostly boys, because more of them have hyperactivity. All of them are distractible and have difficulty paying attention. However, girls tend to sit quietly at their desks and daydream. That is why teachers have a hard time recognizing girls with ADHD.

Many children with ADHD have difficulty learning. They can learn something one day and forget it the next week. They learn better when they are given one-to-one instruction. Some have difficulty learning basic language and math skills in early grades, and need resource help. Others excel in elementary school, but start to slip in junior and senior high school, when they have to pay sustained attention to more complex ideas and problems. They forget to bring their homework, or they just refuse to do them.

Over time, many of these children develop anxiety. They recognize that they are not doing as well as their peers. This anxiety can carry over to other things and situations in their lives. In the broadcast story, this teenager was treated for years for anxiety with no improvement, until her psychologist recognized that she has underlying ADHD. With proper medication, she has improved in her learning, and her anxiety has also decreased.

There has been a lot of media report about the epidemic of anxiety in teenagers. You may wonder how many of them have underlying ADHD, or have both ADHD and anxiety. Some parents are concerned about the side effects of ADHD medications.

Fortunately, there have been major advances in the treatment of ADHD in the past decade. If your children are properly diagnosed by paediatricians or psychiatrists, they should receive medicine to improve their attention as well as other ADHD symptoms. It is not wise to wait until your son starts to falter in school. By that time, he would have lost his self-esteem, and may even refuse to take medicine. It is far better to give him the help sooner instead of later. Your daughter should be assessed also. She is a daydreamer like yourself, and likely has the inattentive form of ADHD.

Adults with ADHD can also be treated with the same medications. You will have to find a physician who is familiar with this condition in adults to get proper diagnosis. Long-acting ADHD medications are very safe. As that teenager said, until she received ADHD medication, her anxiety never got better.