Unmasking ADHD: Your Ultimate Guide

Demi Aspey
19 mins read
May 12, 2023

We'll explore the wonders of ADHD, a neurological condition that affects nearly 370 million people globally. 

We'll debunk myths, spotlight ADHDers' often-overlooked skills, and uncover what ADHD is and isn’t. 

Join me on this journey of discovering the vibrant ADHD world so we can all appreciate the beauty of our neurodiverse minds. 

What is ADHD?

What does ADHD stand for?

ADHD is the abbreviation for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

ADHD is a neurological condition that can affect executive function, working memory, and attention, to name a few things!

The best way to think of it is that ADHD brains are wired slightly differently than neurotypical brains.

It isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just means those of us with ADHD may process the world and information in other ways.

What’s the difference between ADD and ADHD?

ADD (or Attention Deficit Disorder) and ADHD are terms often used interchangeably, but they don’t always refer to exactly the same thing.

Since 1994, the medical community has referred to all forms of attention deficit as ADHD, even if the person wasn't hyperactive.

In other words, ADHD is the accepted medical term, while ADD is the outdated abbreviation.

That being said, many people with the condition choose to go with ADD, especially if they don’t present symptoms of hyperactivity. 

On that note, let's explore the types of ADHD!

What are the the 3 types of ADHD?

ADHD is characterised by a unique blend of symptoms but there are three types of ADHD:

  • Predominantly Inattentive. Mainly struggles with focus and organisation and has difficulty staying organised and following through on tasks (~20–30% of cases)
  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive. Mostly faces challenges with hyperactivity and impulsivity. Can act without considering consequences or makes hasty decisions. Often comes with feelings of restlessness and need to move or fidget (~15% of cases)
  • Combined. A delightful mix of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity (~50–75% of cases)

The link between ADHD and dopamine

Dopamine ADHD meme

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter we humans love most!


It boosts our motivation, makes us feel rewarded, and helps us hold our attention.

It influences our drive and cravings and is a primary factor in determining how excited and motivated we feel. 

It’s no wonder that dopamine deficiencies and ADHD are closely linked. 

Some experts believe people with ADHD are lacking in natural dopamine creation or that we are unable to produce dopamine as efficiently as neurotypical people. 

It’s why we’re always chasing exciting, dopamine-fueled activities and often find ourselves on the edge of boredom.

The promising news? 

ADHD medications help stimulate dopamine production in the brain and body, which aids in better symptom management. 

In addition, dopamine levels can be naturally boosted by following regular exercise, self-care activities and a balanced diet. 

Have a look at our article on 10 natural ways to increased dopamine with ADHD.

What causes ADHD?

The bottom line? We don’t actually know!

The brain is a wondrous cavern of new information, and we haven’t quite managed to uncover all of its secrets yet. 

But a fair amount of research points towards certain factors that might be at play!

Is ADHD genetic?

Research suggests that developing ADHD has a significant hereditary component, but a family history is not the sole cause.

Rather, it’s likely to be a mixture of genetic, neurobiological, and environmental influences.

Twin studies have evidenced that ADHD is highly hereditable (60–70%), but they never demonstrate a 100% link. That suggests that our environment also influences the development of ADHD.

Medical experts often find a link between children who have ADHD and their parents having the condition. 

Though usually, parents don’t realise they have it until their child is diagnosed, and the pieces of the puzzle match their daily symptoms too!

Now, scientists have identified several genes that underline vulnerability to ADHD. 

Environmental risks before birth and during childhood also have close links to the development of ADHD.

Dr. Gabor Mate, an expert physician, argues that while the development of ADHD might have a genetic component, it is determined by our environment and the impact of trauma and stress in particular. 

Dr. Mate also has ADHD, and his book Scattered Minds is a brilliant insight into the potential causes of the condition. 

How Common is ADHD in Adults?

Google Search ADHD trend last 5 years
ADHD search accelerating since 2020

The condition is thought to affect between 2.6% and 6.7% of adults globally.

According to The Guardian, there’s been a 123% rise in adult ADHD cases between 2007 and 2016. Since 2020 the trend has accelerated even further. Data from the ADHD Foundation charity suggest a 400% increase in the number of adults seeking a diagnosis since 2020.

This increase in adult ADHD diagnoses could be attributed to greater awareness of the condition, social media-driven conversations, and the aftermath of the pandemic changing people’s accustomed routines. 

Sadly, numerous critics still accuse people of seeking attention or trying to get special treatment at school or work.

As with all things, a small minority will always take advantage, but invalidating those who do have ADHD on this account is hugely damaging for millions of people. 

I’d invite anyone with a strong opinion on the matter to swap brains with me for a day—I could use the peace and quiet!

Can you develop ADHD later in life?

According to the DSM-V criteria and most medical research, no. 

ADHD symptoms should have been present in childhood, usually before age 12.

This is because ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition thought to form in youth and that can persist throughout life.

Prevalence of adult ADHD is lower when compared with kids, but it is not yet clear if ADHD disappears with age or if symptoms become more manageable and less invasive.

Some people slip through the cracks until much later in life because children typically receive diagnoses by age 7. After that, we usually find ways of adapting to what we assume are symptoms of our personalities! 

Adult ADHD is relatively neglected in studies, largely due to the absence of well-established diagnostics criteria.

But it is just as real and often far harder to deal with.

Adult ADHD

The DSM-V is based largely on the appearance of symptoms before the age of twelve, but we’re learning that the brain doesn’t work within strict parameters, so neither should we.

A recent study revealed that there are 226 million people globally who have ADHD symptoms as adults without an onset in childhood.

Researchers are starting to use two separate definitions of adult ADHD to reflect the observed individual experiences:

1. Persistent ADHD occurs in childhood, carries through to adulthood and is in line with DSM-5 diagnosis

2. Symptomatic ADHD does not require childhood ADHD diagnosis or onset, but involves showing symptoms as an adult.

Results indicate that 2.6% of adult ADHD cases were persistent and 6.8% were symptomatic. That roughly equates to 140 million people who have ADHD whose symptoms started in childhood and a staggering 366 million total ADHD cases globally.

Given the huge disparity between persistent and symptomatic ADHD, experts are calling for reassessment of adult ADHD diagnostics criteria.

Adult presentations of ADHD clearly differs from childhood presentations and we are starting to see some clinicians reflect that in their diagnosis techniques.

I told you we don’t know as much about the brain as we think!

ADHD in women

Is ADHD less common in women?

On the basis of diagnosis alone? Technically, yes.

Studies indicate the difference between boys and girls with ADHD could be as much as 10 to 1, with global prevalence accepted at around 5 to 1, or 3 to 1. 

But that’s on a clinical level. 

Many girls and women don’t seek medical help because their symptoms are less outwardly disruptive.

Females tend to internalise their symptoms, whereas males show hyperactive and sometimes physically aggressive behaviour, which is more outwardly disruptive and noticeable. 

Underdiagnosis of ADHD in Women

Adults and children of any gender may be diagnosed with ADHD, though for a long time, it was thought to only affect young boys. Oh, how very wrong we were!

Diagnosing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can be a tough cookie because other mental health disorders share many symptoms, and the brain is a complex creature. 

There’s a barrage of numbers surrounding the gender split; no one can determine the exact number. 

That being said, there is an increasing awareness of the problems of delayed and incorrect diagnosis of ADHD in females.

It is thought that the condition doesn’t discriminate on account of gender; rather, hyperactive and impulsive behaviours, which are more common in males, have traditionally been used as diagnostic indicators.

Girls may only show signs of inattention that are easy to miss or misread. This plays a significant role in the underdiagnosis that affects women.

Accurate diagnosis and effective treatment for ADHD depend on a greater understanding of the gender variations in the disorder's presentation. 

Healthcare providers, teachers, and families can better assist those with ADHD if they are aware of the variety of ways the disorder may appear.

ADHD symptoms in women

So how do the symptoms differ for men and women? 

Believe it or not, we don’t have a full grasp on this just yet. We don’t seem to know much, do we?

But there are some common denominators we are discovering.

Different symptom presentations across genders may contribute to the underdiagnosis and misdiagnosis of ADHD in women.

Hyperactivity, impulsivity, and physical aggression are more prevalent traits in males with ADHD.

Inattentiveness, daydreaming, low self-esteem, and verbal aggression are more common in females.

Adults with ADHD often struggle with carelessness, poor attention to detail, task switching, poor organisation, difficulty focusing or prioritising, and a propensity to lose or misplace items (I lose my AirPods at least three times per day!).

Women with ADHD are believed to exhibit fewer direct displays of hyperactivity and impulsivity than men (tell my credit card that!). 

Identifying and diagnosing ADHD in women may be difficult due to disparities in symptom presentation, which may lead to women not receiving the care they need.

Medical professionals need to be aware of these variations to diagnose and treat ADHD in men and women effectively. 

As a late-diagnosed woman with ADHD (29), I can say firsthand how easy it is to misinterpret symptoms as something entirely different. So, I'm going to let you in on how this whole diagnosis thing works and what having ADHD truthfully looks and feels like. Though, as noted, everyone’s experience may differ. We should look at ADHD as a spectrum of symptoms rather than a black-and-white checkbox list!

Unfortunately, the ADHD diagnostic criteria don’t allow for much wiggle room in terms of symptom experiences.

Want to learn more about ADHD symptoms, misdiagnosis, and underdiagnosis in women? Head over to our ADHD in women checklist article.

How do I get diagnosed with ADHD?

To get an “accurate” ADHD diagnosis, medical experts consult the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) criteria.

It is generally accepted that six or more signs of inattention or six or more symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity must be regularly present to diagnose a person with ADHD. On top of that, the symptoms must have been present before the age of 12.

You can peruse the full criteria and symptoms here

It's advisable that if you think you have ADHD, you should always consult a qualified medical professional to avoid potentially misdiagnosing yourself. 

Now that we’ve got the serious bit out of the way, let’s dip our toes into what it’s like to live with ADHD.

Masking and ADHD

ADHD masking 🎭 refers to the practise of downplaying or overcompensating one's symptoms in order to maintain “social” acceptance. 

People with ADHD may find temporary relief from their symptoms by using masking strategies.

Nevertheless, these strategies can have long-term harmful effects on their physical and mental health, including increased tiredness, stress, and concern.

By the time I got my diagnosis, my masking was so apparent that I convinced myself I didn’t have ADHD at all.

Masking my bad organisational skills by forcing myself to deep clean the house every Sunday.

Actively stopping myself from talking too much and apologising when I do.

Pulling all-nighters to reach deadlines while losing sleep to make up for task paralysis. Sound familiar? 

Do I get an Oscar or...?

I just one an oscar ADHD masking meme

Symptoms of ADHD we should talk more about

Time management and time blindness 🕐📚

Problems with time management and time blindness are common among people with ADHD and may have far-reaching consequences.

These two are largely manifestations of poor executive function and can wreak havoc on your day-to-day. 

People with ADHD might shift from being completely unfocused to wholly focused in a matter of seconds. They can then lose track of time as they delve deeper into their work, hobby, or interest. 

However, when channelled well, this intense concentration may produce remarkable results.

Colour-coding objects and tasks can be one method of employing visual cues as a reminder to complete activities promptly (Asana is my life and soul, I tell you!). 

Time blindness, the inability to accurately perceive and manage time, is a typical symptom of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

You either end up being too late, too early, or thinking something will take five minutes when in reality it’ll take thirty.

Hyperfocus and boredom 🥱🚀

Fun's arch nemesis, boredom, may be a double-edged sword for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

People with ADHD often have a low boredom threshold, which might encourage them to actively seek out unusual experiences.

However, when they've found something they're really interested in, their ADHD “superpowers” may kick in, and they can hyperfocus like never before.

Hyperfocus is a state some people refer to as "flow,” but from experience, it’s ten times more intense.

Hours can pass by, glued to a single task, without any consideration for anything else in the world.

I personally love these moments; hyperfocus is brilliant, but consistent it is not. 

If I could flip a switch and enter a hyperfocused state, I’d resemble something close to Bradley Cooper in Limitless. 

ADHD Hyperfocus GIF
"Accurate" representation of my ADHD hyperfocus

Task paralysis and overthinking ⏳⚠️

Another obstacle is what's known as "ADHD task paralysis" or ADHD paralysis, which is the result of having too many things to accomplish or too many strong emotions to manage.

ADHD overthinking then comes to join the cohort of brain challenges, and it’s all rumination nation from there!

Some may benefit from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), routines, and organisation to combat time blindness and task paralysis. Better productivity and general happiness may result from adopting these practises.

Executive (dys)function 🧠💪

The brain's executive function is like having your own personal assistant, allowing you to control your behaviour and everyday activities.

Time management, organisation, multitasking, memory, planning, and prioritisation are all functions of the executive function. 

Our executive function begins to blossom around age two and keeps blooming until around the age of thirty. If you’ve got ADHD, however, you can expect to be 40% behind that rate, meaning you may sometimes act or think like someone far younger. 

When our executive function isn’t in the mood to help us out, the simplest tasks can feel like solving the Enigma code, and absolutely everything becomes exhausting. 

Executive function can be improved by getting some zzzs. 💤🛌

At first glance, sleep and executive function may seem to have nothing in common. But they may as well be wrapped up like pigs in blankets! Sleep deprivation may make it more challenging to control executive functions, so even if you struggle with sleep (which, no shock, many ADHDers do), you should prioritise it above all else. 

I find leaving episodes of The Office on repeat helps me doze off!

ADHD rejection dysphoria (RSD) and emotional dysregulation 🥺💔

ADHD is associated with rejection-sensitive dysphoria (RSD), which causes severe distress if the sufferer experiences disappointment or rejection.

Complexity and overlap with other mental health disorders, such as depression, are typical among RSD symptoms.

These are called comorbidities which aren’t as macabre as they sound but can complicate accurate diagnosis because it’s tough to pinpoint the cause of symptoms.

Emotional dysregulation, which manifests as extreme sensitivity, impulsivity, and emotional instability, is another symptom of ADHD.

Emotional dysregulation isn’t on the DSM-V criteria, even though it’s a widely accepted symptom of ADHD that can leave people feeling exhausted and out of control.

Rest assured, I see you and want you to know your emotions aren’t something to be afraid of!

I've found therapy, including hypnotherapy, to be the best treatment for learning to handle RSD. And while our negative emotions are heightened, we can also feel positive emotions brilliantly. 

I try to remember that any time I feel overwhelmed and critical of my sensitivities.

I also prefer to avoid labelling emotions as positive or negative; they are simply indicators of how we feel and how we are responding to our environment. 

Anger and irritability 😡🗯️

ADHD exacerbates anger, making it more extreme and challenging to control. 

But don't worry; it's not all bad! 

Emotional dysregulation may be the root cause of anger in people with ADHD. Think of it as an unseen ingredient that makes everything a little spicier! 

Let's address anger head-on. 

Medications, sleep deprivation, stress, and emotional or mental overload are common causes of irritability and anger in people with ADHD. Yes, it's annoying, like having a fly buzzing around your head the whole time that you can’t swat!

Why are irritability and anger so troublesome for those with ADHD? 

Think about all the explosive outbursts, short fuses, impatience, and irritation in a single person. With ADHD and emotional dysregulation, reactivity becomes exacerbated and far harder to control, leading to outbursts and poor judgement. It doesn’t mean not being accountable for your actions, though. 

These challenges are also linked to an idea called "future myopia," where people with ADHD are unable to assert the future consequences of their plans and reactions, which makes them struggle to control their irritability and anger outbursts. 

It’s something I really struggled with, but the good news is you can learn to control the anger and irritability better using tools like breathing techniques, meditation, and psychotherapy.

Failing that, scream into a pillow helps!

Restlessness and anxiety 😟🤯

Envision this: you struggle with focusing, staying on task, and controlling your impulses due to your ADHD. Anxiety, which includes apprehension, dread, and concern, has now entered the chat. 

The combined effects of ADHD and anxiety may amplify the severity of both conditions.

Between 40 and 60 percent of people with ADHD also suffer from anxiety. 

Therefore, for those with ADHD, feelings of restlessness and anxiety are more like best friends who have made a permanent camp together.

You may be thinking, "How can I tell if it's ADHD or anxiety causing all this commotion?"

A lot of the time, anxiety occurs due to the worry of ADHD symptoms getting in the way of completing tasks, doing things correctly, or forgetting important information. Hence, anxiety is a common comorbidity of ADHD. 

Impulsive shopping, binge eating, and getting that dopamine fix 🛍️🥡

People with ADHD often exhibit impulsive behaviours (kind’a in the name), such as making hasty purchases, overindulging in food, or engaging in other dopamine inducing activities.

Unplanned, excessive purchases are typical of impulsive purchasing, also known as compulsive buying.

They are one of the main sources for the ADHD tax.

Reasons for acting rashly include the need for immediate gratification or the need to momentarily dull unpleasant emotions, with an instant dopamine hit.

The inability to regulate one's impulses and the lower dopamine levels make people with ADHD more likely to engage in such actions.

Consuming large quantities of food quickly while being unable to stop is a hallmark of binge eating, which is actually common for those with ADHD. 

Binge eating tends to form and persist for ADHDers because dopamine plays a role in food cravings, decision-making, executive functioning, and impulsivity.

And guess what we really have a deficit of? Dopamine!

Pass me the cake! 🍰

How to treat ADHD in adults

One thing to be aware of is that there is no “cure” for ADHD yet, and as someone with the condition, I’m sort of glad there isn’t. 

While having ADHD could be a massive struggle, some of the symptoms could be turned into helpful, unique, and valuable qualities.

Thankfully, there are ways to help manage the not-so-pleasant symptoms so you can go about your life with more confidence and control: 

  1. ADHD Medication: medication can help relief ADHD symptoms, typically by increasing the levels of neurotramitters in your brain.

    Medication can be effective when taken as directed and prescribed by a psychiatrist or doctor. 
  1. Therapy: Psychological therapies like cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can benefit adults with ADHD.

    CBT helps develop coping strategies, improve organisational skills, and manage time and emotions more effectively.
  1. Coaching: ADHD coaching focuses on helping individuals set and achieve goals, develop better habits, and improve overall functioning.
  1. Lifestyle changes: Consistent daily routines, regular exercise, good sleep hygiene, and a balanced and nutritious diet can help manage ADHD symptoms.

Body doubling 👯

Individuals with ADHD might benefit from ADHD body doubling online.

It’s strategy that involves having another person, the "body double," work beside them to keep them focused and ensure they get their job done.

The subtle social pressure promotes a state of focus, increased effort, and improved performance. People with ADHD may find this exercise useful because of the difficulties they have with executive function, motivation, and maintaining focus. 

Having a body double or an ADHD accountability buddy may make even the most difficult tasks more fun and bearable. 

The silent presence of a partner or a group of people  is enough to help the person with ADHD maintain attention and interest in the activity at hand by providing a light dopamine boost.

You can try ADHD coworking with a tailored-made accountability partner app like Deepwrk.

It serves as an external reminder and an anchor that can keep you from getting distracted. 

And if hyperactivity is taking over, ADHD body doubling can promote a sense of calm and stop you from bouncing between tasks.

Anyone who is prepared to work closely with the person with ADHD and give a supportive, non-distracting presence may serve as a "body double." 

At its core, ADHD body doubling is about accountability, and we all need that from time to time!

ADHD superpowers

ADHD superpowers: Batman and Superman legos

I mentioned the good side of ADHD earlier; some people like to refer to these traits as ADHD superpowers 💥🌟.  

The strengths associated with ADHD are what being human is to us, as are our weaknesses. We all have them, ADHD or not. They’re just part of who we are.

If the world were as adapted for those of us with neurodiversity, we wouldn’t need to rationalise our symptoms. Superheros, after all, still aren’t “normal” members of society!

But it’s still a helpful way to reframe our mindsets, especially on those tougher days.

And if imagining you are Tony Stark gets you through a mountain of unanswered emails, I ain’t stopping ya!

ADHD superpowers you might relate to:

  • The boundless vitality of many people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may be put to good use and channelled into productive tasks and activities. ⚡
  • Individuals with ADHD may be more daring than others, taking on tasks and risks that others may shy away from. It’s not a coincidence that so many entrepreneurs have ADHD. Welcome to the gang, Sir Richard Branson! 🦸
  • Individuals with ADHD show exceptional resilience due to their capacity to overcome obstacles and adjust to new circumstances. 🏋️‍♀️
  • The ability to empathise with and comprehend the feelings and points of view of others is a common trait among those diagnosed with ADHD. 🥰
  • Individuals with ADHD may be very tenacious when they set their minds to something. Hyperfocus definitely has its merits when you’re starting a new hobby, trying to meet a deadline, or penning your next screenplay 💡

ADHD Resources

For those looking for more solutions or if you simply want to understand ADHD better - dive deeper by exploring our list with the top ADHD books and the best ADHD Podcasts.

And if you need some more practical ideas and inspiration on strategies to thrive with ADHD, check out our article on the best ADHD products and gadget or the top 20 ADHD productivity tools and apps.

And if you live in the UK, make sure you take advantage of the the government’s Access to Work ADHD grant (which can cover some of the expenses in managing ADHD).

ADHD Unmasked

Hopefully our journey through the many facets of ADHD, the busting of many ADHD myths, and the discovery of valuable tactics like body doubling has been illuminating!

Keep in mind that knowledge and open-mindedness are crucial in creating a healthy environment for people with ADHD. 

And always remember how extraordinary that brain of yours is!

In the meantime, stay in the loop with Deepwrk as we provide valuable tips, insights, and stories for freelancers, business owners, and remote workers with ADHD!


ADHD treatment (NHS)ADHD statistic and data (CDC)
ADHD symptoms and diagnosis
(CDC)ADHD prevalence (NICE)
ADHD prevalence with age
ADHD prevalence in adults (NCBI)
ADHD in women
(Medical News Today)Body doubling (Healthline)CBT for ADHD (Healthline)
ADHD facts & stats (Healthline)

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Demi Aspey
Demi is the founder of the creative agency, Sonder Script, a culture columnist for House of Coco magazine, a part-time lecturer, and a soon-to-be Doctor in screenwriting. She is a scriptwriter by speciality and a copywriting cultivator by trade. Demi is a mental health advocate and was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult.