What Are the 3 Types of ADHD?

By Staff 11 Min Read

There are several types of ADHD, each associated with characteristics of inattention, hyperactivity, or a combination of both.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic condition that impacts an individual’s emotions, behaviors, and the ability to learn new things. It mainly affects children, but can also occur in adults.

The effects of ADHD can vary from person to person. To be diagnosed with ADHD, symptoms must have an impact on your day-to-day life. Here’s what to know about the different types of ADHD plus how they’re diagnosed and treated.

ADHD is divided into three main types:

  • inattentive type
  • hyperactive-impulsive type
  • combination type

Each type of ADHD is tied to one or more characteristics. ADHD is characterized by inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behavior.

These behaviors often present in the following ways:

  • Inattention: getting distracted, having poor concentration and organizational skills
  • Hyperactivity: never seeming to slow down, talking and fidgeting, difficulties staying on task
  • Impulsivity: interrupting, taking risks

Everyone is different, so it’s common for two people to experience the same symptoms in different ways. For example, these behaviors are often different in boys and girls. Boys may be seen as more hyperactive, and girls may be quietly inattentive.

The symptoms you experience will determine which type of ADHD you have.

Inattentive type

If you have this type of ADHD, you may experience more symptoms of inattention than those of impulsivity and hyperactivity. You may struggle with impulse control or hyperactivity at times. But these aren’t the main characteristics of inattentive ADHD.

People who experience inattentive behavior often:

  • miss details and are distracted easily
  • get bored quickly
  • have trouble focusing on a single task
  • have difficulty organizing thoughts and learning new information
  • lose pencils, papers, or other items needed to complete a task
  • don’t seem to listen
  • move slowly and appear as if they’re daydreaming
  • process information more slowly and less accurately than others
  • have trouble following directions

More girls are diagnosed with inattentive type ADHD than boys.

Hyperactive-impulsive type

This type of ADHD is characterized by symptoms of impulsivity and hyperactivity. People with this type can display signs of inattention, but it’s not as marked as the other symptoms.

People who are impulsive or hyperactive often:

  • squirm, fidget, or feel restless
  • have difficulty sitting still
  • talk constantly
  • touch and play with objects, even when inappropriate to the task at hand
  • have trouble engaging in quiet activities
  • are constantly “on the go”
  • are impatient
  • act out of turn and don’t think about consequences of actions
  • blurt out answers and inappropriate comments

Children with hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD can be a disruption in the classroom. They can make learning more difficult for themselves and other students.

More boys are diagnosed with the hyperactive-impulsive type than girls.

Combined type

If you have the combination type, it means that your symptoms don’t exclusively fall within the inattention or hyperactive-impulsive behavior. Instead, a combination of symptoms from both of the categories are exhibited.

Most people, with or without ADHD, experience some degree of inattentive or impulsive behavior. But it’s more severe in people with ADHD. The behavior occurs more often and interferes with how you function at home, school, work, and in social situations.

Most children have combination type ADHD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This type is more common in boys compared to girls. The most common symptom in preschool aged children is hyperactivity.

Symptoms can change over time, so the type of ADHD you have may change, too. ADHD can be a lifelong challenge. But medication and other treatments can help improve your quality of life.

The exact cause of ADHD is unknown. Although some have speculated that ADHD develops in response to factors like eating too much sugar, watching too much TV, or living in a chaotic environment, research has not found evidence to support these claims.

Rather, it’s thought that genetics play a role in the development of ADHD. Other factors that researchers are looking into include:

  • brain injury
  • exposure to toxins, like lead, either in pregnancy or from a young age
  • alcohol or tobacco use during pregnancy
  • premature birth or low birth weight

Though there’s a lot about the causes of ADHD that’s still unknown.

ADHD can affect anyone, but it’s twice as common in males.

Symptoms of ADHD typically start to crop up at a young age, between ages 3 and 6, with the average age of diagnosis being 7 years old. Approximately 9.4 percent of all children in the United States are diagnosed with ADHD.

Though ADHD also occurs in adults. An estimated 4.4 percent of adults in the United States are living with ADHD, but research suggests these numbers are on the rise.

There isn’t a simple test that can diagnose ADHD. Children usually display symptoms before the age of 7. But ADHD shares symptoms with other disorders. Your doctor may first try to rule out conditions like depression, anxiety, and certain sleep issues before making a diagnosis.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is used across the United States to diagnose children and adults with ADHD. It includes a detailed diagnostic evaluation of behavior.

A person must show at least six of the nine major symptoms for a specific type of ADHD. To be diagnosed with combination ADHD, you must show at least six symptoms of inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behavior. The behaviors must be present and disruptive to everyday life for at least 6 months.

Besides showing the pattern of inattention, hyperactivity-impulsivity, or both, the DSM-5 states that to be diagnosed, a person’s symptoms must be displayed before 12 years of age. They must also be present in more than just one setting, like at both school and home.

Symptoms must also interfere with everyday life. And these symptoms can’t be explained by another mental disorder.

An initial diagnosis may reveal one type of ADHD. But symptoms can change over time. This is important information for adults, who may need to be reevaluated.

After you’ve been diagnosed, there are a number of treatment options available. The primary goal of treatment is to manage ADHD symptoms and to promote positive behaviors.


Your doctor may recommend behavioral therapy before starting any medications. Therapy can help people with ADHD replace inappropriate behaviors with new behaviors. Or help them find ways to express feelings.

Parents can also receive behavior management training. This can help them manage their child’s behavior. It can also help them learn new skills for coping with the disorder.

Children under age 6 usually start with behavior therapy and no medications. Children ages 6 and up may benefit most from a combination of behavior therapy and medications.

Other therapeutic options, like cognitive behavioral therapy, family or marital therapy, meeting with and ADHD coach, or trying classroom management interventions may also be helpful for adults or children with ADHD.

Support groups can also provide emotional healing both to those with ADHD and their loved ones.


Medications are available to help reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity and improve the ability to focus, work, and learn, as well as physical coordination.

There are two types of ADHD medications: stimulants and nonstimulants.

Stimulants are the most commonly prescribed ADHD medications. They work fast by increasing the production of chemicals in the brain that help with thinking and attention. Between 70 to 80 percent of children have fewer symptoms while taking these medications.

Though stimulants do come with side effects, such as:

  • anxiety or irritability
  • decreased appetite
  • headaches
  • increased blood pressure
  • sleep issues
  • stomachaches
  • tics

Some nonstimulant medications are also available for treating ADHD. These can also be used to help improve focus, attention, and impulsivity. But they don’t work as quickly as stimulants.

Nonstimulants are a good option for those who aren’t seeing improvements or are experiencing negative side effects with stimulants.

Adults with ADHD often benefit from the same treatments as older children.

It’s important to work closely with your doctor to determine the best treatment or combination of treatments and the right dosage to help your ADHD.

ADHD is not preventable. To help reduce the risk of ADHD in children, expectant mothers should practice healthy habits and avoid smoking or substance abuse during pregnancy. It’s also recommended to avoiding toxins like lead.

Though even then, the baby may still go on to develop ADHD at some point.

Most children diagnosed with the disorder no longer have significant symptoms by the time they are in their mid-20s. But ADHD is a lifelong condition for many people.

You may be able to manage ADHD with therapeutic options, medication, or both. But treatment isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s important to work with your doctor if you think your treatment plan isn’t helping you.

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