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How It Feels to Have Inattentive-Type ADHD

A family’s journey through the challenges of attention deficit disorder.

Key points

  • The three types of ADHD are inattentive, hyperactive, and combined. Inattentive is most likely to be overlooked or misdiagnosed.
  • Although ADHD medications are controversial, they can benefit some children, allowing them to focus and complete work.
  • Kids with ADHD can hyperfocus when they're engaged in a topic or activity, giving them a learning superpower at those times.
Sean Maykrantz and Opeyemi Ikuborije
Sean Maykrantz and Opeyemi Ikuborije

It’s hard for children and teenagers who are noticeably different than others in how they think, what they notice, what they value, and how they approach the tasks of school and life. Kristin Wilcox wrote Andrew’s Awesome Adventures with His ADHD Brain with her son Andrew to describe their bumpy but never-boring journey through his childhood and her parenting experiences.

A First-Hand Account of Experiencing ADD

The book’s opening chapters are written by Andrew, who has made it through high school and is now in his freshman year at a small university focusing on aviation and aerospace, topics that have always captured his mind and imagination. He describes how it feels to have attention deficit disorder (without hyperactivity), including irresistible distractions while he’s supposed to be studying for a test or writing a book review, like a sunny day and a friend going by on a bicycle, a model-building project he’s in the middle of, even something so mundane as folding paper airplanes.

There is a lot written on ADHD, but rarely from the point of view of a child experiencing it. Wilcox’s comments, summaries, and connections to the research supplement Andrew's first-hand account. The book is written in a warm, reassuring, accessible style that parents of kids with ADHD will appreciate. At the same time, it’s grounded in recent findings on neurodiversity, focusing particularly on Inattentive-type ADHD.

Wilcox points out that there are three types of ADHD (inattentive, hyperactive, and combined) and that most people mistakenly believe that a child doesn't have ADHD unless they're hyperactive. This frequently leads to children with inattentive-type ADHD either being undiagnosed and seen as lazy, disorganized procrastinators or misdiagnosed with a behavioral disorder.

Coping With ADHD

Wilcox describes how she was initially apprehensive about having Andrew use stimulant medications but decided to give them a try, which Andrew found beneficial in helping him focus at school and complete homework and other assignments.

They discussed his work with a counselor, where he learned coping strategies for managing his frustration, dealing with deadlines, keeping himself organized, and other challenges associated with ADD.

Wilcox and Andrew describe, with humor, the ways in which it wasn't all smooth sailing. Nonetheless, they muddled through the challenges until Andrew made it through high school and into a university program that matched his interests and abilities.

There Are Benefits to ADHD

Another misconception about ADHD is that people who are neurodiverse in that way can't focus for long on anything. In fact, ADHD brains have a capacity for hyperfocus. When Andrew is interested in a topic or activity, his hyperfocus kicks in, allowing him to concentrate deeply and learn intensely, quickly mastering complex topics at a high level.

In Andrew’s Awesome Adventures With His ADHD Brain, the Wilcoxes observe that ADHD brings with it many gifts. They mention high achievers like David Neeleman (airline entrepreneur) and Richard Branson (innovative businessman), who credit their success to the divergent thinking and intense creativity associated with ADHD.

Connecting Scientific Expertise to Andrew's ADHD Experience

Wilcox has a Ph.D. in pharmacology and over two decades of experience studying the pharmacological and behavioral effects of drugs, including those frequently prescribed for ADHD.

In “Mythbusting ADHD,” a series Wilcox writes here at Psychology Today, she considers many of the topics covered in this book: the gifts of ADHD—including creativity—emotionality and ADHD, and the truth about stimulant medication.

I recommend this book and Wilcox's online articles for teachers, parents, and children who notice signs of impulsivity, distractibility, disorganization, and trouble following instructions. Sometimes these problems can be solved through patience, persistence, and parental attention, but sometimes the child needs professional intervention in order to thrive.

It can help to understand the experience through a child’s eyes, as explained by a mother who’s knowledgeable about this particular way of being different than other kids, especially when the story ends with the almost-grown-up child successfully engaged in studies he loves.