What is ADHD Masking?

We often refer to those with ADHD as being “neurodivergent.” This means that their cognitive processes are a bit different than the rest of the population, which we refer to as  “neurotypical.” Our society, as a whole, is built around those that are neurotypical, which means those with ADHD tend to be outside of what we generally considered to be standard behavior.

This is why you may sometimes come across a term called “ADHD Masking” to refer to those that are trying to find their place in a neurotypical world.

ADHD masking refers to the behaviors and strategies individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) use to hide or manage their symptoms in order to fit in with societal expectations and avoid negative judgment. This phenomenon is common among both children and adults with ADHD and can have significant psychological and emotional impacts.

How to Understand ADHD Masking

ADHD masking involves deliberately *or unconsciously* modifying one’s behavior to minimize the visible symptoms of ADHD, such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. The primary purposes of masking are to avoid stigma, reduce social and professional repercussions, and appear “normal” to others. Some common masking behaviors can include:

  • Overcompensation – Working extra hard to stay organized, meet deadlines, and manage tasks to hide difficulties with executive functioning.
  • Mimicking Others – Copying the behavior, routines, and strategies of peers who do not have ADHD to blend in.
  • Suppression of Symptoms – Actively trying to suppress behaviors such as fidgeting, daydreaming, or speaking out of turn.

Remember that ADHD masking can occur unintentionally. Some people with undiagnosed ADHD may have been masking for years without realizing it, which may be one of the reasons their ADHD went undiagnosed.

Psychological and Emotional Impact of ADHD Masking

ADHD masking can be a problem. It has psychological and emotional consequences that may make it harder to both live with (and possibly treat) ADHD. Examples of issues that may arise include:

  • Stress and Exhaustion – Consistently masking ADHD symptoms can be mentally and physically exhausting. The effort required to maintain this façade can lead to chronic stress, fatigue, and burnout.
  • Anxiety and Depression – The fear of being “found out” or judged for having ADHD can contribute to anxiety and depression. Individuals may feel inadequate or fraudulent, constantly worrying about maintaining their masked behaviors.
  • Loss of Identity – Masking can lead to a disconnect between one’s true self and the persona they present to the world. This dissonance can result in feelings of isolation and a diminished sense of self-worth.

What makes this even more of a problem is that issues like anxiety, stress, and exhaustion can also make managing ADHD symptoms harder, repeating a cycle.

Gender Differences in Masking

Research also suggests that ADHD masking may be more prevalent among females. Societal expectations for girls to be more passive and less disruptive than boys can lead to increased pressure to conceal ADHD symptoms. Consequently, girls and women with ADHD are often underdiagnosed and receive less support than their male counterparts.

ADHD also may present differently in women, with more cognitive symptoms than physical ones, which makes it easier to mask and thus harder to diagnose.

Long-Term Consequences of ADHD Masking

ADHD masking presents problems in both the short term and the long term. In the long term, masking can cause issues such as:

  • Delayed Diagnosis – Masking can delay the diagnosis of ADHD, as symptoms are hidden or misattributed to other causes. This delay can prevent individuals from receiving the appropriate treatment and support they need.
  • Reduced Effectiveness of Treatment – When individuals with ADHD mask their symptoms, it can be challenging for healthcare providers to assess the full extent of their condition. This can result in less effective treatment plans and interventions.
  • Anxiety, Depression, and More – The longer we live with anxiety and depression the harder it is to manage, even if you reduce the masking in the future. That is why it is important to make sure that you’re addressing it early, to avoid creating these long term challenges.

ADHD masking may feel like a way to fit in to a society not built for neurodivergent individuals, but in the long term it tends to do more harm than good.

Addressing ADHD Masking

ADHD masking is not something that can be easily addressed through intervention alone. It starts with increasing awareness and understanding of ADHD and its symptoms, to help reduce the stigma associated with the disorder. Education can encourage individuals to seek help without fear of judgment.

Creating environments that are supportive and accommodating of neurodiversity can help individuals with ADHD feel more comfortable being themselves. This includes schools, workplaces, and social settings that recognize and address the unique needs of those with ADHD. This may require learning self-advocacy, to help people feel confident addressing their needs to others.

Lastly, partner with ADHD coaches that are here to help you feel more confident about living with ADHD, better address the symptoms, and make sure you’re making decisions in your best interests moving forward.

If you suspect you’ve been ADHD masking or you’d like to get started with an ADHD coach, reach out to ADHD Training Center, today.

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