Since he was small, my son seemed different from other kids. Blaise threw bigger, more intense tantrums. He wouldn’t wait quietly with a book and some crayons. We had to constantly take him on walks, talk to him, play with him. While we loved parenting our busy boy, my husband and I recognized early signs of ADHD (because we both have it).
Lots of adults write lots of essays about their childhoods with ADHD. I remember spacing out, forgetting work, and losing shoes — as does my husband. But my childhood during the 1990s doesn’t match any childhood today — complete with smartphones, 24/7 streaming, social media, and a global pandemic.
What is it like for a child to live with inattentive ADHD today? I don’t have a clue, really.
So I asked my 12-year-old — now a lanky, eye-rolling tween who tortures us with groan-inducing puns — to perch on the arm of my writing couch and tell me about his ADHD.
Inattentive ADHD and Hyperfocus
“Hyperfocusing can be very hard,” Blaise said immediately. “But it’s very useful if you want to research something.”
The kid’s not wrong — I often call him for dinner several times only to find him curled up with a book. (He devours everything from graphic novels to Archeology.)
“I didn’t hear you,” he’ll say, and I believe him.
Hyperfocus, a distinctive trait of ADHD, involves direct, intense attention to a singular task. When it’s directed at something “useful,” like reading, writing, or, as Blaise says, “researching,” it’s almost a superpower.
But when hyperfocus lasers in on something less than useful — like Star Wars: Battlefront II — it can become a burden. Kids with inattentive ADHD don’t consciously choose what grabs their attention. So, while Blaise’s hyperfocused research into cryptozoology has him beating adults in trivia contests, he often forgets dinner because he’s programming Roblox.
Inattentive ADHD and Big Emotions
Every mother will say their baby is the sweetest child alive and a monster in the same breath — and my characterization of Blaise isn’t any different. However, Blaise is beginning to understand that his sometimes-vicious temper is not just a symptom of his tweenhood, but of his inattentive ADHD, too.
“I get really mad,” he told me. “I tell other kids it helps to yell into pillows when no one else is around.”
Kids with inattentive ADHD can be dreamy and spacey, but they can also have the same big feelings and emotional dysregulation as kids with the hyperactive subtype of ADHD. We continue to work on coping skills.
Inattentive ADHD and Working Memory
“I forget small stuff, like where my library books are,” Blaise sighed. “I also forget really big stuff, like bringing a tablet cord when we go on vacation. I forget things a lot.”
It’s a hallmark of kids with inattentive ADHD: They forget things. They lose things. And from the sadness in his voice, Blaise knows it.
We homeschool Blaise, along with his two younger brothers, so, he misses some of the social embarrassment over losing papers and forgetting his lunch. But he knows that when it’s time to round up library books, I get exasperated when he’s missing three. I try verbal reminders. I try baskets. The books still disappear. So, too, do his shoes, despite dedicated shoe depositories.
Whenever it happens, I take a deep breath, and I remember my own shame and self-blame. Kids with inattentive ADHD will forget things. They will lose things. But they need support to overcome a cycle of self-blame. When Blaise sighed, my heart broke a little bit. I forget things, too. I need to be kinder.
Inattentive ADHD and Cleaning (What’s That?)
When the topic of his room came up, Blaise seemed at a loss. He groaned. “Cleaning is just hard to do, okay?” he said. “Cleaning up after dinner, cleaning my room — it’s just hard.”
Kids with inattentive ADHD struggle with cleaning. Blaise often says he just doesn’t see a mess. I sympathize. As an adult with inattentive ADHD, I can open an Amazon package, drop the box, and walk away. I don’t think, I should pick up that box.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that kids with inattentive ADHD don’t know where to begin. Blaise’s floor may contain sedimentary layers by now and saying, “Clean your room,” will only end in tears.
He needs nonjudgmental reminders, and he needs them frequently. We say, “Can you pick up your plate?” after dinner, rather than, “You didn’t pick up your plate!” once he leaves the table. It’s easier, and he needs that grace. Why not give it to him? I wish a good fairy would pop up and remind me to pick up my Amazon boxes.
“I hope this helps other kids,” Blaise said, before running off. “Parents need to understand it’s not easy, having ADHD.”
As much as I recall my own childhood with inattentive ADHD, it helps being reminded how kids with inattentive ADHD actually feel. It hurts to hear that he blames himself for losing things. But I’m glad that he recognizes how his hyperfocus helps him. Blaise isn’t ashamed of his diagnosis. Its symptoms annoy him sometimes. But being non-neurotypical doesn’t.
Some days, I understand him. Some days, I’m baffled. But talking about his ADHD gave me more insight into his life. I’ll parent a little more kindly. Like he said, “it’s not easy having ADHD.” I already knew that. But add in being 12 years old — that sounds pretty tough on anyone.
Inattentive ADHD in Tweens: Next Steps
Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.