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Common Symptoms of Inattentiveness

Early Childhood (preschool and early school years)

  • Behavior within normal range: Difficulty attending, except briefly, to a storybook or quiet task such as coloring or drawing.
  • Behavior signaling an inattention problem: Sometimes unable to complete games or activities without being distracted, is unable to complete a game with a child of comparable age, and only attends to any activity for a very short period before shifting attention to another object or activity. Symptoms are present to the degree that they cause some family difficulties.
  • Behavior signaling the possible presence of ADHD, predominantly inattentive type: The child is unable to function and play appropriately and may seem immature, does not engage in any activity long enough, is easily distracted, is unable to complete activities, has a much shorter attention span than other children the same age, often misses important aspects of an object or situation (eg, rules of games or sequences), and does not persist in various self-care tasks (dressing or washing) to the same extent as other children of comparable age. The child shows problems in many settings over a long period and is affected functionally.

Middle Childhood (later primary grades through preteen years) and Adolescence

  • Behavior within normal range: May not persist very long with a task the child does not want to do, such as reading an assigned book or homework, or a task that requires concentration, such as cleaning something. Adolescents may be easily distracted from tasks that they do not want to perform.
  • Behavior signaling an inattention problem: At times the child misses some instructions and explanations in school, begins a number of activities without completing them, has some difficulties completing games with other children or grownups, becomes distracted, and tends to give up easily. The child may not complete or succeed at new activities, has some social deficiency, and does not pick up subtle social cues from others.
  • Behavior signaling the possible presence of ADHD, predominantly inattentive type: The child has significant school and social problems, often shifts activities, does not complete tasks, is messy, and is careless about schoolwork. The child may start tasks prematurely and without appropriate review as if he were not listening, has difficulty organizing tasks, dislikes activities that require close concentration, is easily distracted, and is often forgetful.
Last Updated
ADHD: What Every Parent Needs to Know (Copyright © 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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