Feb 15th 2023
ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that can be present in both adults and children. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) , ADHD involves:
Living with ADHD can cause difficulties with daily functioning and school or professional work. Many people with ADHD mask their symptoms, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
ADHD masking is a term that describes when someone with ADHD intentionally or unintentionally hides their symptoms from others. People may mask their symptoms to feel more ‘normal’, fit in with others, avoid being reprimanded, or to manage interpersonal relationships .
People with ADHD may often be disruptive in social situations; for example, in the classroom, a child with ADHD may regularly shout out, get up from their chair, or distract others. In a professional setting, an adult with ADHD may also distract others from their work, complete projects behind schedule, or struggle with time keeping .
These behaviors can lead to stigma around symptoms of ADHD, with people being labelled as difficult, annoying, unhelpful, and loud. This stigma can have hugely negative impacts on people with ADHD, affecting their self-esteem and potentially leading to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression .
As such, people may try to hide their ADHD symptoms to prevent this. Both children and adults have been found to mask symptoms, in the context of school, college, work, and personal life. This may be by developing compensatory coping strategies, such as mirroring others or sticking to regimented schedules .
Symptoms of ADHD that are commonly masked include:
It can be very difficult to recognize when someone is masking symptoms of ADHD, but it may be possible to recognize it in yourself, if you are aware of the actions you are taking to hide your symptoms.
Many people who mask their symptoms will develop compensatory coping mechanisms, such as relying on strict routines, lists, or reminders, to help with time keeping and managing tasks; finding a job that is below their capabilities, so that they are able to complete work without mistakes and prevent task paralysis; or finding a partner or spouse who is very organized .
Other signs of ADHD masking include:
Masking can help people with fitting in amongst others in social situations, thereby increasing potential social engagement and reducing loneliness. It may also help to prevent stigma in academic or professional circumstances from teachers and coworkers if compensatory actions aid in completing work .
It has been found that females are less likely to receive a diagnosis of ADHD than males, which is believed to be, in part, due to the ability of females to mask their symptoms . It is also thought that females experience more internalized symptoms, such as inattention, while males experience more externalized symptoms, such as hyperactivity and impulsivity .
As such, females are more able to hide their symptoms from others, as they may be able to develop coping strategies to manage, without others noticing, such as working hard to achieve academic or professional goals, to compensate for inattention .
Children and adolescents are thought to mask their symptoms in the classroom, particularly college students, as there is often a social pressure to meet the norms of this age group and a desire to fit in with peers. There may be a fear of being bullied for being different, resulting in masking of symptoms .
Adults may mask their symptoms, particularly in a professional setting, but by adulthood, many people with ADHD have learned to adapt to, understand, and accept their ADHD symptoms, thereby improving functioning and reducing the requirement for masking .
Managing symptoms of ADHD can be best helped by gaining a diagnosis from a mental health professional and receiving appropriate treatment, in the form of medication or therapy. Various types of therapy can help with managing ADHD symptoms, such as :
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