ADHD and Social Skills Gap in Children and Teens

National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week

     (May 1-7 2016)

kidsWe love to celebrate with those we feel closest to and a best friend forever (BFF) is one who is there when we feel lost or sad and need to be comforted; they help us find hope. These friends are the ones we can share everything with and can rely on to listen and understand what we are going through. A BFF can be formed through school, church, work, the neighborhood or organizations. Our BFF’s are the ones who make us laugh when we can’t do it on our own, and who we enjoy doing fun things together with, so it is natural that we should celebrate them on this special day.

However, for children with ADHD, having this special relationship with a person may be conspicuously absent. Due to their undeveloped social skills and impetuous behavior, some children don’t understand personal space and may blurt out things just to get attention; creating an uncomfortable situation with others. Many lack friends and some have been ignored in sports, signaled out by teachers, and teased by their siblings and neighbors. They are not invited to the birthday parties, and often feel alienated and lonely.

These feelings of rejection can lead to:

  1. Rebellion
  2. Acting out
  3. In some cases, getting in trouble with the law

Symptoms of ADHD include:

  1. an inability to focus
  2. forgetfulness
  3. Procrastination
  4. Exercising poor judgment.

Often teachers and parents become frustrated and impatient with the child who has trouble organizing themselves, puts things off until “later” or loses their homework. It is presumed their procrastination is due to laziness when in truth, it is more due to their inability to stay focused. Classmates shun children with ADHD and don’t want to play with them because they are perceived as different. They are subject to bullying and teasing, often suffer from feelings of low self esteem, and spend a lot of time by themselves. Friendships are scarce and many times they make poor choices with the children they choose to associate with. They often seek out others who like themselves, have been ostracized by others, and who may be perceived as troublemakers.

Interestingly, children with ADHD often receive high test scores on standardized tests and are considered highly intelligent. However, expecting them to sit through long periods without breaks is unrealistic as they often become bored and restless. Identifying an activity that a child can excel at will help them feel good about themselves, and praise should definitely be used when they make good choices and accomplish even small tasks.

Ways to hide socially: Electronic gadgets like an Xbox, smart phones and I-pad’s, often replace a BFF as children and adolescents  are able to express themselves without feeling ridiculed, and can avoid others having expectations of them which they may be not be able to meet. It is one of the few times they are able to work at their own pace; feeling a sense of accomplishment.

Additionally, as they enter into adolescence, many young adults with ADHD feel uncomfortable around groups of people as they are unsure how to interact, and have had negative experiences in trying to befriend others. Social media is fast becoming a place to find friends and acceptance as they are able to communicate in a format comfortable for them, and they do not feel pressure to conform to social norms.

What most people take for granted; being able to easily make friends, becomes a real chore for children with ADHD. These traits of social awkwardness, forgetfulness, disorganization and procrastination will follow them into adult relationships and may affect their performance on a job and interfere with their close relationships.

Suggestions: For parents of children with ADHD, it is important that children feel accepted and not made to feel inferior or compared to their siblings. It is particularly important to understand that they are only able to process 1 thing at a time, or they will feel overwhelmed and defeated. Parenting can be stressful as these children require a lot of patience, focused instruction, directions which may need to be repeated a few times, and the option of choices to help them feel a sense of control.

Close the Gap Socially: Meet with a professional counselor who is skilled in working with ADHD. The skills they acquire will help them learn how to interact with others and bridge the emotional gap they experience daily. Helping children with ADHD overcome these obstacles, will help them become more relatable to other children, and eventually help them experience the joy that a BFF can bring to their life.

Cathy PinnockCathy has a Master of Science in Counseling Psychology from Palm Beach Atlantic University and Master of Business Administration from Simmons College. Having been a parent of a child with ADHD, she understands and can help children/adolescents navigate the “ups and downs” of daily life, and overcome the social and relational issues they often encounter.