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Hiding ADHD Symptoms

In my last post, I talked about situations where hyperactive symptoms might not be noticed because they aren’t necessarily in-your-face, bouncing-off-the-walls, stereotypical hyperactivity.

That got me thinking about another reason ADHD symptoms in general might not be noticed: if ADHDers themselves hide their symptoms!

I think this is something many of us do instinctively, as a way of coping. You can’t make your symptoms go away, but to some extent you can conceal them from others, which makes them more socially acceptable.

HidingInattention is an example of a symptom that can often be hidden because it’s something that happens in your head.

When you’re in school, for example, you’re probably not going to make a point of telling your teacher that you aren’t paying attention to any of their lectures and that when you read the textbook most of the words don’t really sink in.

Your academic performance will suffer as a result of these things, but it’s easy enough for your teacher to chalk that up to you being less intelligent than you are. If your grades are really, head-turningly bad, someone might pause to ask why your grades are so bad, but even then they won’t necessarily come up with the right answer.

School isn’t the only place where ADHDers hide the extent of their inattentive symptoms.

Let’s say you’re listening to someone talk either in a detailed conversation or in a workplace meeting. It’s easy enough to ask highly specific questions that give the impression of being engaged even if you’ve zoned out and missed a lot of what the person is saying, maybe even the main idea.

The point here isn’t that people with ADHD are deceptively pulling one over on non-ADHDers by concealing ADHD symptoms. It’s that to function in school, social settings or the workplace, it’s not practical to announce the full extent of what we’re experiencing to the world. We can’t ask the teacher to repeat themselves every time our concentration falters. As a result, people will tend to ascribe other causes to our challenges, and our symptoms won’t be spotted.

I’m using inattention as an example, but there are plenty of other symptoms where this applies. Most people don’t necessarily know the full extent of an ADHDer’s lack of planning, disorganization, or tendency to avoid understimulating activities. Not because we make a deliberate decision to hide these symptoms, but because we naturally don’t want to draw other people’s attention to these behaviors.

That’s not the only reason ADHD symptoms don’t get spotted. ADHD symptoms can’t be completely hidden, and to some extent they’re always there for others to observe. But we can make them less externally obvious.

One implication is that it’s partially on ADHDers to be able to recognize possible symptoms are refer ourselves for treatment. Ultimately, no one knows the full degree of our symptoms more than we do, and no one knows better than we do when it’s time to seek input from a mental health professional.

Image: Flickr/Rubina V.

Hiding ADHD Symptoms

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2019). Hiding ADHD Symptoms. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 10, 2019, from


Last updated: 15 Jul 2019
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