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Shadow ADHDers

I write this blog as someone who knows I have ADHD. Generally, people who read this blog tend to be other people who know they have ADHD, people who think they might have ADHD, people who know someone else who has ADHD, or people who think someone else might have ADHD.

But not all ADHDers fall into one of those categories. There are quite a few people out there who have ADHD and have no idea. They can easily go their whole lives without getting a diagnosis, much less any kind of treatment.

It’s interesting to think about the different ways the lives of these “shadow ADHDers” can unfold.

ShadowFor many, I imagine the way things unfold is: chaotically, full of frustrations, and with an inexplicable sense of underachievement. Perhaps with some combination of self-doubt, resentment and low self-esteem mixed in.

Plenty of diagnosed ADHDers can extrapolate from their pre-diagnosis lives because they were once shadow ADHDers themselves. In fact, the reason many of us got diagnosed is because things really weren’t going well in our pre-diagnosis lives, which led us to seek out mental health support.

But I don’t think this pattern fully encapsulates the range of experiences that shadow ADHDers have. I have to believe that there are also some people with undiagnosed ADHD who get extremely lucky and simply live their lives in blissful ignorance.

What I mean is that they intuitively find coping strategies that work for them, and they stumble into situations that are accommodating of their symptoms. They are fortunate to find jobs that mesh with the way their brains work, to be surrounded by people who accept them for who they are, and probably to have a certain amount of socioeconomic privilege that acts as a cushion.

I bring this up just because I find it interesting to think about. I imagine that the luck required to go through life without having serious negative consequences from ADHD symptoms is pretty rare. Clearly, I’m not one of those people, or I wouldn’t be writing this blog. And let’s face it, you’re probably not either, or you wouldn’t be reading this article! Not that being one of those people is something to aspire to, anyway – luck isn’t an effective plan of action, and it’s something that can quickly evaporate.

The other point to keep in mind is that even if you think you’re someone who has been lucky to escape serious negative consequences from undiagnosed ADHD, you’re probably wrong. It’s common for people with ADHD to lack insight into the full extent of their symptoms – and the toll those symptoms have taken on relationships, careers or personal health.

Which brings me to another category of shadow ADHDers: people who might realize that they’re a bit impulsive or inattentive, but who don’t realize the magnitude of their “quirks.”

It’s easy to get used to living with ADHD because it’s something you do all day every day! In that context, you aren’t necessarily going to recognize how different your quality of life might be in the absence of ADHD symptoms.

That’s why, if you find yourself thinking “yeah, I might have ADHD, but it doesn’t seem like a big deal,” I would strongly encourage you to meet with a mental health professional nonetheless. You really don’t have to be in a place of crisis to benefit from psychotherapy, for example. All of us have room for confronting our counterproductive psychological habits. And chances are that if you have ADHD, even the lucky “high-functioning” variety, you’ve acquired more counterproductive psychological habits than most!

Image: Flickr/Matthias Ripp

Shadow ADHDers

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2020). Shadow ADHDers. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Jan 2020
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