The Exhausting Act of Masking ADHD

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For a young person with ADHD, masking their behaviours can be exhausting. It can take their energy away from the things they’re passionate about and prevent them from embracing their true selves.

Understanding and celebrating the strengths of young people with ADHD can help them to feel loved for who they are and reach out for support when they need it. With acceptance and support, young people can develop healthy coping mechanisms for situations that are difficult to manage, build their confidence, and learn to love themselves.

What Is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects behaviour and concentration. Young people with ADHD may feel restless, impulsive, or easily distracted. They may also be energetic, creative, and original. Living with ADHD can be hard, but with the right support and the acceptance of others, young people can manage difficult ADHD symptoms and embrace their strengths instead.

Celebrating Neurodiversity

ADHD is a developmental condition, not a mental health condition. This means that the behaviours and traits associated with ADHD result from the way a person’s brain develops before they’re born or when they are very young. Mental illnesses, on the other hand, are when a person experiences a state of mind that is different from what they perceive as their true self.

Neurodiversity is a word that describes children, young people, and adults with varying characteristics of neurodevelopmental conditions like ADHD, autism, and dyslexia. Neurodiverse people are thought to make up around 15% of the population. Neurodiversity is something to be celebrated, encouraging us to acknowledge our differences as positive and build societies that support and offer space for everyone.

What Are the Symptoms of ADHD?

ADHD symptoms often manifest differently in children and adults. Adolescents and young people with ADHD may display symptoms more associated with child ADHD or adult ADHD, depending on their age and who they are as individuals.

Some of the symptoms of ADHD in children include:

  • Finding themselves easily distracted
  • Being unable concentrate
  • Feeling restless or fidgety
  • Being very talkative
  • Having trouble focusing
  • Acting impulsively
  • Becoming easily angry or frustrated and struggling to deal with emotions
  • Finding it difficult to make and maintain friendships
  • Disorganisation
  • Lacking awareness about time

Some of the symptoms that are common in adult ADHD include:

  • Carelessness and lack of attention to detail
  • Difficulty managing time
  • Forgetfulness
  • Poor organisational skills

Many of the differences between symptoms of ADHD in children and adults may be rooted in the different pressures and challenges of their lives. For example, symptoms of ADHD in adults may be more noticeable in the way they complete tasks at work or attend meetings. It’s important to remember that there are many reasons that children and adults could display these symptoms, and they are not necessarily connected with ADHD, so it’s important to speak with a professional to receive an accurate ADHD diagnosis.

What Is ADHD Masking?

ADHD masking is when a young person hides ADHD behaviours and traits to act in a way that society perceives as “appropriate”. Masking behaviors are an attempt to avoid the unjust social stigma that parts of society may associate with ADHD.

While masking ADHD behaviors can help young people to surpass certain barriers and hurdles in the world around them, it can also be extremely damaging, affecting their mental health and preventing them from recognising and embracing their strengths. Instead, it’s our responsibility to create a society that accepts the ADHD community and allows its members to be their true selves.

What Are Some Ways That a Young Person May Mask ADHD?

Masking ADHD isn’t the same as managing it. It involves hiding symptoms or over-compensating for them to try and appear like you don’t have the condition. Young people may mask ADHD traits they believe bother other people or that their parents had asked them to stop doing.

Some ways that young person might be put up an ADHD mask include:

  • Purposefully saying less so that they do not talk too much or interrupt people
  • Suppressing intense emotions
  • Hiding excess energy
  • Putting a lot of effort into stopping stimming behaviors like pen-clicking
  • Putting an exhausting amount of effort into timekeeping
  • feeling the urge to organise a task or project rather than work on it
  • Continuing to focus on a low-interest activity, despite feelings or irritability
  • Setting themselves perfectionist standards to hide what they view as flaws
  • Mirroring the way other people act in social situations so they “fit in”

Masking these traits and behaviours can be exhausting and, in some cases, damaging. For example, young people may try to hide or shut down intense emotions rather than expressing them and asking for the support of others. They may try to ignore the fact that they feel restless and continue to stay in one place, despite its difficulties, rather than getting up and moving around. They may be so preoccupied with keeping to the time of an appointment that they are unable to focus on other things.

Ultimately, masking ADHD symptoms can prevent a young person from seeking effective support, developing healthy coping strategies, and realising their true selves.

What Is ADHD Mirroring?

Mirroring is when a person observes and copies the behaviour of their family, friends, and others around them. Mirroring is how young children learn to speak and interact with others. It’s also a way to receive social acceptance and connect with others.

ADHD mirroring happens when someone replaces ADHD behaviours with more socially accepted behaviours. While this process may be unconscious, it can still be tiring for a young person with ADHD. ADHD support may involve working together to identify unconscious, learned masking and determine whether these behaviours are helpful to them or not.

How Does ADHD Masking Affect a Young Person?

ADHD masking may make a young person’s life more difficult in several ways. For example:

  • ADHD masking can prevent a diagnosis that may lead to them receiving effective support.
  • Masking ADHD can be stressful, contributing to stress and anxiety. A 2021 study found that amongst adults with autism, social camouflaging was associated with greater symptoms of generalised anxiety, depression, and social anxiety.
  • Masking may prevent a young person from being present, connecting with their surroundings, and following conversations.
  • Young people who mask may have difficulty connecting with their own identity.

ADHD Masking and Gender

Researchers believe that masking may be a reason why the ADHD diagnosis rates for males are higher than for females. A study from 2019 suggested that, in a school setting, females tend to mask ADHD symptoms more, making signs of ADHD more likely to be missed. As a result, more males than females are referred to professionals for diagnostic testing and support.

It’s important to note that the binary gender language used here reflects the language used in clinical research. More inclusive research is needed that recognises the diversity of gender identity.

How Can We Celebrate ADHD Strengths?

Masking behaviours can leave a young person drained of energy. There are some things that we can do to reduce the pressure to mask their behaviours and provide space for all young people to be themselves.

Celebrating the strengths of young people and others with ADHD can help young people to accept and love their true selves. Some ADHD strengths include:

  • Energy
  • Spontaneity
  • Enthusiasm
  • Curiosity
  • Creativity
  • Quick thinking
  • Ability to hyper-focus

Encouraging young people to focus on their strengths provides the space for them to be proud of who they are and embrace their neurodiversity. It helps them to avoid ideas that ADHD is something that bothers others and should be hidden and reduces the pressures to conform to others’ ideals.

What Role Can an ADHD Diagnosis Play?

For many young people, an ADHD diagnosis can help them to understand themselves and explain the difficulties they face in their daily lives. Young people with undiagnosed ADHD or untreated ADHD may lack access to effective support to develop healthy coping mechanisms and strategies for some of their symptoms and try to mask them instead. An ADHD diagnosis can pave the way for effective treatment where young people learn both to accept and manage ADHD traits in a way that makes daily life easier while still embracing who they are.

Expert-led ADHD Support at The Wave Clinic

The Wave Clinic is a specialist treatment centre for adolescents and young adults, dedicated to supporting young people to reach their full potential. Our comprehensive programs aim to bring out the best in teenagers and young adults, helping them to realise their strengths, grow in confidence, and develop the skills they need to follow their dreams. We deliver our expert-led programs with sensitivity and care, emphasising the inclusion of each young person in their treatment experience.

Our ADHD treatment programs draw on the experience of adolescent mental health specialists from around the world. We offer a variety of therapeutic and experiential options that help young people to develop healthy coping mechanisms for symptoms of ADHD while recognising their unique and valuable strengths. We combine traditional talk therapies with team activities, cooking, and gardening to provide a nurturing treatment experience that addresses the entire person.

Situated in the spectacular natural beauty of Malaysia, our programs combine a transformative gap year experience with clinical care. We provide life-changing opportunities for young people to overcome the barriers they face and rediscover their true selves. Contact us today to find out more.

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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