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Camouflaging Behavior In ADHD And Autism

Camouflaging Behavior In ADHD And Autism

Fairly new, camouflaging has emerged as a significant area of interest in neurodevelopmental research. Camouflaging involves the use of conscious or unconscious strategies to mask autistic traits, often leading to delayed diagnoses and mental health challenges. While extensively studied within the autistic community, there remains a notable gap in understanding whether camouflaging is exclusive to individuals on the autism spectrum or if it extends to those with other neurodevelopmental or mental health conditions.

Camouflaging is characterized by a complex interplay of behaviors to conceal autistic characteristics, thereby facilitating social integration and navigation. These strategies can range from subtle adjustments in social interactions to more overt mimicry of neurotypical behaviors. Despite its prevalence and impact, the exploration of camouflaging has predominantly centered on autistic individuals, leaving a void in our comprehension of its potential relevance across diverse neurodiverse populations.

Camouflaging isn’t confined to one group; it’s like a chameleon skill that could extend across various neurodiverse populations. Imagine someone with ADHD or dyslexia, maybe even someone with anxiety, employing similar strategies to navigate social situations more smoothly.

What’s intriguing is how these camouflage techniques can vary in subtlety. It could be as simple as adjusting your tone of voice or making more significant changes, like completely altering your body language. And it’s not just about blending in; it’s about survival in a social world that might not always understand or accommodate neurodiversity.

As we delve into the nuances of camouflaging, it becomes imperative to broaden our scope beyond autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and investigate its manifestations among individuals with other neurodevelopmental conditions, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). By embarking on this comparative journey, we aim to unravel the intricacies of camouflaging, discern its commonalities and distinctions across varied populations, and ultimately enrich our understanding of the broader landscape of neurodiversity.

The Study 

In the present study, researchers examined the prevalence of camouflaging behaviors among individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), aiming to discern whether camouflaging is exclusive to autism or extends to other neurodevelopmental conditions. 

The findings revealed that while individuals with ADHD exhibited more camouflaging behaviors compared to a neurotypical control group, their frequency of camouflaging was lower than that observed in individuals with autism. These results challenge the notion that camouflaging is unique to autism and underscore the importance of recognizing camouflaging strategies within the ADHD population. 

By shedding light on the prevalence of camouflaging across diverse neurodiverse populations, this study contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of the nuances of neurodevelopmental conditions and emphasizes the need for tailored interventions and support mechanisms.


Participants included in the present study were part of a larger research endeavor focused on “Autism & Aging,” as outlined in the protocol paper by Geurts et al. (2021). A total of 352 autistic adults, 123 adults diagnosed with ADHD, and 312 adults without autism or ADHD completed all questionnaires pertinent to this investigation.

In the initial phase (Part 1) of the study, after rigorous application of inclusion criteria, 105 adults were selected for the ADHD group. This group was matched for sex and age with a comparable cohort of 105 adults in the autism and non-autism/non-ADHD comparison group.

Subsequently, in Part 2 of the study, a total of 477 adults with a diagnosis of ADHD, autism, or both conditions were included. Detailed characteristics of participants involved in Parts 1 and 2 are presented in Tables 1 and 2, respectively.

Recruitment of adults with ADHD and autism occurred through various mental health institutions across the Netherlands. Additionally, advertisement efforts were extended through client organization websites, newsletters, and social media platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn. The comparison group was recruited via social media channels and personal networks of both researchers and participants.

The study aimed to assemble a diverse yet representative sample for a comprehensive exploration of camouflaging behaviors across neurodevelopmental conditions by employing a multi-pronged recruitment strategy and adhering to rigorous inclusion criteria. 


The study compared camouflaging behaviors among adults with ADHD and autism, as well as a neurotypical comparison group. The results indicated that autistic adults exhibited higher levels of camouflaging compared to adults with ADHD. Specifically, autistic individuals scored significantly higher on the total score and across all subscales of the Camouflaging Autistic Traits Questionnaire in comparison to those with ADHD. Notably, autistic individuals scored higher on the compensation and assimilation subscales.

Furthermore, adults with ADHD demonstrated camouflaging behaviors when compared to the neurotypical comparison group. They scored significantly higher on the total score and the assimilation subscale of the questionnaire. However, no significant differences were found on the compensation and masking subscales between the ADHD group and the comparison group.

In terms of trait predictions, autism traits were found to be a significant predictor for total camouflaging behavior and the compensation and assimilation subscales. However, ADHD traits did not significantly predict camouflaging behavior after controlling for multiple testing. Additionally, neither autism nor ADHD traits significantly predicted camouflaging on the masking subscale.

Overall, these findings suggest that while adults with ADHD do engage in camouflaging behaviors, they do so to a lesser extent than autistic adults. Additionally, autism traits appear to play a more significant role in predicting camouflaging behavior compared to ADHD traits.

Final Thoughts 

As anticipated, adults with ADHD exhibited higher scores on the assimilation subscale compared to the comparison group. This suggests that individuals with ADHD may engage in camouflaging behaviors, such as attempting to fit in and appearing “normal,” in response to stigma, similar to autistic individuals.

Consistent with expectations, no significant differences were found between adults with ADHD and the comparison group on the compensation subscale. Adults with ADHD reported fewer compensation strategies compared to autistic adults, indicating that camouflaging behaviors specific to compensation may be more pronounced in the autistic population.

Unexpectedly, no significant differences were observed between ADHD and autism, as well as ADHD and the comparison group, on the masking subscale. Bayesian analyses yielded inconclusive results, suggesting ambiguity in the differences between groups. Additionally, autism traits were not significant predictors of masking behavior, aligning with previous findings suggesting that masking may be a more general form of impression management.

Regression analyses indicated that autism traits were a significant predictor of camouflaging levels across all groups, while ADHD traits did not significantly predict camouflaging behaviors. This suggests that camouflaging, as measured by the CAT-Q-NL, is more prevalent in individuals with higher levels of autistic traits, regardless of ADHD diagnosis. 

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