What is ADHD Masking? Let’s Go Through Some ADHD Masking Examples

You may become forgetful and inattentive due to ADHD. Because of your focus issues, you probably struggle with time management as well. Missed deadlines for tasks for work, school, and personal projects are possible effects of all of these symptoms. We’ll talk about a few ADHD masking examples in this article.

What is ADHD Masking?

ADHD masking is when individuals with ADHD hide symptoms of their disorder to make it seem like they do not have ADHD. Russel Barkley coined the term ADHD masking. It is also considered camouflaging or a type of impression management. Some ADHD masking examples include, obsessively concentrating on a task, sitting still in your seat without fidgeting, and imitating others in public to make yourself seem more socially acceptable.

People with ADHD may mask their ADHD to avoid the social stigma attached to it. Some individuals with ADHD may not be diagnosed with it and hide their symptoms, unknowingly, to appear like people who do not have ADHD.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ADHD affects 9.8% of children aged 3-17 years, whereas the prevalence of ADHD in adults aged 18-44 is 4.4% according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). ADHD masking is present in one-third of people with ADHD.

Some ADHD Masking Examples

ADHD masking examples

Individuals with ADHD have trouble focusing, prioritizing, and completing tasks. They are also impulsive, easily irritable, suffer from frequent mood swings, and find it hard to cope with stress. It is common for them to find themselves in embarrassing situations and to be socially ostracized. As a result, they learn to mask symptoms of ADHD to fit in.

Here are some ADHD masking examples:

  • Individuals with ADHD tend to be extremely cautious of their words and stay too quiet to avoid talking too much or interrupting others.
  • They may pretend to be all right even when they are having difficulty keeping up and maintaining their relationships.
  • ADHD individuals may also strive to be on time for important meetings and appointments, because of their inability to manage time effectively.
  • They may also be concerned with how clean their house looks even though it requires an overwhelming amount of effort to maintain it, and they lack the necessary organizational skills.
  • They may be too attentive while listening to you so that they do not miss anything you say.
  • They may organize paperwork and documents meticulously so that you get what you are looking for.
  • They might try to make up for their perceived shortcomings by assuming overburdening responsibilities.
  • They try to appear calm while having difficulty focusing because their mind keeps going from one thing to the other too quickly to even understand what someone is saying.
  • They are constantly making sure that they don’t lose their belongings.
  • They act around people as they are expected to, not showing their true selves.
  • They may take notes excessively to avoid forgetting things later.
  • Individuals with ADHD might push themselves to the point of exhaustion, trying to show off their strength and dependability while struggling inside.
  • They may repress strong emotions until they fall sick, which can lead to depression.
  • They try to avoid being put in tense and anxious circumstances by making up excuses.
  • They are overcome with guilt and shame while hiding how overwhelming their responsibilities are.

What Type of Symptoms Do People with ADHD Try to Hide?

People with ADHD learn what behaviors set them apart from others as children. They grow up with adults around them telling them how to act ‘right’, ‘pay attention,’ and ‘focus.’

  • ADHD stimming, such as leg bouncing or pen clicking
  • Emotional volatility
  • Impulsiveness
  • Restlessness
  • Excessive talking
  • Interrupting others
  • Impatience
  • Constant fidgeting
  • Trouble focusing

History Behind ADHD Masking

The phenomenon of ADHD masking has existed since the earliest research on the disorder in 1932 when it was still characterized as ‘hyperkinetic syndrome.’

It was first believed that ADHD is a disorder that only affects children and adolescents. Adults were frequently given the wrong diagnosis. Today it is well known that ADHD affects adults, but the stigma around ADHD remains, which makes it difficult for adults with ADHD to seek help. It also contributes to individuals with ADHD resorting to hiding their symptoms.

The phenomenon of ADHD masking was not very well known until 2015 when psychologist Russel Barkley talked about it in his book ‘Taking Charge of Adult ADHD.’

There is still a lack of research on ADHD. Dr. Russel Barkley attributed this to the fact that people without ADHD find it difficult to believe in the concept of ADHD masking.

Moreover, doctors do not always inquire from their patients about the possibility of them masking their ADHD, because they are generally too embarrassed to admit it. Therefore, ADHD might be more common than people expect.

What is ADHD Mirroring?

Mirroring is defined as the act of observing and imitating another person’s behavior, including facial expressions, body language, voice intonation, usage of hand gestures, phrase inflections, etc. It is a technique for establishing social acceptance and communication with others. ADHD mirroring is also referred to as an instance of impression management by certain physicians.

Additionally, It can be viewed as a form of ADHD masking because it suppresses ADHD behaviors and swaps them out for more socially acceptable ones.

According to sociologist Erving Goffman, humans are actors who play roles to facilitate social interaction. People with ADHD may use impression management as a performance technique to prevent social exclusion.

Masking vs. Mirroring

Masking in individuals with ADHD involves presenting oneself to others in a way that would give the impression that one does not have ADHD.

On the other hand, mirroring involves imitating another individual’s behavior and then reproducing and mirroring those behaviors back to them.

Mirroring and masking are two different yet related techniques. They serve to hide symptoms of ADHD from the public, whether they are finished with it deliberately or not.

While masking might be a useful strategy for avoiding unfavorable comments from others, it can also result in feelings of isolation and humiliation.

On the other side, mirroring can make people with ADHD more socially integrated with their peers, but it can also make them feel as though they are constantly putting on a show. 

Why is Masking Problematic?

The effects of masking your ADHD can give rise to numerous problems:

Masking your ADHD leads to a delay in diagnosis. It keeps you from receiving effective ADHD management support.

The stress of masking untreated or undiagnosed ADHD can contribute to anxiety and depression.

If you are good at hiding your ADHD, people will not believe you when you tell them you are struggling or assist you when you need support.

Untreated ADHD due to masking is accompanied by a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder to deal with their internal feelings, which can later cause you to develop more complicated health concerns.

Some individuals become so adept at masking their ADHD that they can go years without receiving a disorder.

You struggle to complete tasks as your colleagues do. To finish your task, you stay up late or put in extra time at home. You are missing out on time you could have spent resting, exercising, or with your family.

ADHD masking makes it challenging to distinguish between what is genuine and what is fake. If you want others to like you, you would feel that you have to change who you are to become someone else.

Is Masking Common in Women?

Historically, more men have received a diagnosis of ADHD than women. Masking may be the reason.

A 2019 study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience assessed gender differences in ADHD in a school setting. The study showed that female students tend to mask their symptoms more than male students.

Males are more prone to exhibit external behaviors like violence and rule-breaking as seen in conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). These are not symptoms of ADHD but they do lead to examinations that can detect the disorder.

Females with ADHD exhibit internalizing behaviors like anxiety, which are less disruptive in the classroom.

This may indicate that women are less likely than men to receive an ADHD diagnosis when paired with symptom masking.

How to Prevent and Deal with ADHD Masking

how to prevent ADHD masking

Masking is exhausting. Once you realize that you have been masking your ADHD, you can start employing several coping mechanisms and strategies to effectively deal with it. Your life becomes so much easier once you start addressing masking, instead of living with it untreated.

Below are some strategies you can use to stop masking ADHD:

Get a Diagnosis and Treatment

If you think you are masking ADHD symptoms, you should consider getting a diagnosis. If your doctor has given you a diagnosis, make sure to follow up with them.

Speak with your doctor to discuss your available treatment options, if your current treatment is not working. There are treatments for ADHD available, as well as several types of therapy and lifestyle modifications that can help.

Once you have established a treatment plan, stick to it to achieve desired results. You may learn how to deal with your ADHD symptoms and lead a fulfilling life if you put in the necessary effort and persistence.

During your treatment, you will realize that without receiving a diagnosis and a course of therapy, you had spent most of your efforts and energy on masking the symptoms rather than truly treating them.

Distinguish Between Healthy and Unhealthy Behaviors

Not all of your ADHD masking traits are harmful. Determine which ADHD masking habits are healthy and which ones are unhealthy. For instance, maintaining a relatively clean home might be beneficial, yet expecting perfection would be detrimental. Similarly, trying to show up on time and using timers to avoid procrastination are also healthy habits. However, suppressing your emotions, pretending to be fine when you are struggling, or exhausting yourself while trying to prove you are strong and reliable are unhealthy masking habits that you need to get rid of.

Seek Therapy

Consider seeking help from a clinically trained therapist to learn to regulate your emotions, instead of avoiding them. Behavioral therapy like Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be particularly helpful in managing the emotions and thought processes in ADHD. It helps you reframe your thoughts. The aim is to alter harmful behaviors by changing the mental patterns that underlie them.

Join a Support Group

Consider joining a support group where you can interact with other ADHD individuals suffering from the consequences of masking. You can share emotions freely without the fear judements. You will learn how you are not alone in your suffering. Connecting with others who are experiencing the same difficulties as you will make you feel less lonely.

Be Mindful of Masking

Take notice of when you are masking your ADHD behaviors. You may not be aware of it because it is very natural for you. But make an effort to be conscious of it. Reflect on what is driving you to mask your symptoms.

Are you masking to fit in? Is masking protecting you from embarrassing yourself? Is it helping you live in denial of your ADHD?

Celebrate your ADHD Strengths

Constantly masking your ADHD can make you overlook the many strengths that come with having ADHD. You need to recognize and appreciate them. It will also make you feel less embarrassed about your situation.

In case you are having a hard time recognizing them, here are some of the traits you can celebrate:

  • You think outside the box. You don’t conform to society’s norms and conventions. You are imaginative.
  • You are energetic, spontaneous, and passionate.
  • Your ability to hyperfocus on what interests you.
  • You are creative and original.
  • You are adventurous. You love taking risks.

The Ending Note

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects millions of children and adults worldwide. Two-thirds of them spend their lives hiding their symptoms knowingly or unknowingly. While masking might help them cope with ADHD and appear socially acceptable, it is an emotionally draining process. It is a form of coping that seems more comfortable at the moment but offers no assistance in addressing the internal issues that require your true focus. Having ADHD is difficult already, but pretending to live life like a neurotypical person when you lack the abilities to do so is exhausting. It also keeps you from receiving the available help.

Receiving an ADHD diagnosis and receiving treatment for the condition is one of the greatest methods to reduce the impact of harmful masking behaviors. Your treatment will help you effectively deal with your symptoms and you will find masking unnecessary to hide them.

Finding and altering the masking behaviors that might be making your life more difficult is beneficial. Joining support groups and connecting with others who experience ADHD can be both reassuring and enlightening.


How do you know if you’ve been masking ADHD?

You exhibit various symptoms of masking that let you know that you have been masking ADHD.

  • You are extremely cautious of what you say. You also prefer to stay quiet or talk less on purpose, to keep yourself from interrupting others.
  • You arrive earlier than your friends and colleagues for hangouts or important meetings because you struggle with managing time.
  • You are too attentive while listening to other people to avoid missing anything they say.
  •  You take on more responsibilities than you can handle to appear strong and reliable to your peers.
  • You avoid being put into intense and difficult circumstances.
  • You exhaust yourself trying to show off your resilience.

Is masking common with ADHD?

It is prevalent among people with ADHD. According to psychologist Russel Barkley, two-thirds of people with ADHD mask their symptoms. 

What is ADHD mirroring?

ADHD mirroring is an act of observing and copying another person’s behavior, such as their facial expressions, body language, voice intonation, use of hand gestures, phrase inflections, etc. It is a method for developing interpersonal relationships and communication. Also, It is referred to as an instance of impression management. It helps suppress ADHD behaviors and replace them with more socially acceptable ones.

How does anxiety mask ADHD?

Anxiety is also a symptom of ADHD, but it also exists without it. Anxiety is also much more common in people with ADHD than in people without ADHD. According to a national survey, half of the people with ADHD have anxiety compared to only 20% of individuals without ADHD.

Both ADHD and anxiety involve changes in the activity of neurotransmitters like acetylcholine, dopamine, and serotonin in the brain. When these neurotransmitters become unbalanced or dysregulated, the ensuing behaviors look similar in a variety of cognitive diseases, such as ADHD and anxiety, Both anxiety and ADHD affect an individual’s ability to self-regulate, thereby their symptoms overlap. Anxiety and ADHD cause trouble focusing, staying on task, and distracting thoughts. ADHD can exacerbate anxiety. Your brain fails to produce serotonin and dopamine consistently, resulting in mood disorders such as impulsivity, mania, irritability, and sadness. Stimulant medications taken for ADHD can also worsen anxiety. 

What are the causes of ADHD masking?

Individuals with ADHD frequently mask their symptoms trying to fit in and appear more socially acceptable. It helps them cope with the disorder by concealing it. Since individuals with ADHD are anxious and impulsive, people often ridicule them for it. ADHD individuals also mask their behavior to avoid being mocked.

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