4 Social Skills That Are Impaired in ADHD

One of the hallmarks of ADHD is that it shows up in multiple areas of life. That can include work, school … and social settings, which is what I want to focus on here.

The core ADHD symptoms of inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity don’t explicitly say anything about social skills, but these symptoms can certainly affect the way people with ADHD navigate social situations. Here are 4 social skills that are impaired in ADHD.

1. Waiting one’s turn to speak

Here’s one social symptom that is explicitly mentioned in the DSM diagnostic criteria for ADHD: interrupting others.

Many people with ADHD are serial interrupters. This has to do with doing things impulsively, and with committing thoughts to action as soon as they pop into your head.

When people with ADHD see something they want to do, they often just do it immediately without waiting for a second thought. In social settings, this tendency translates into making comments without waiting for the appropriate place in the conversation.

The DSM mentions another related behavior: “blurting out” the answer to a question before the question is finished. Yes, people with ADHD are frequently people who blurt. This tendency of people with ADHD is understandably frustrating to those around them because no one exactly enjoys being interrupted, even if it’s a manifestation of impulsivity rather than anything personal.

2. Picking up on social cues

ADHD is associated, generally, with inattention, including a tendency to inattentively overlook details. In social interactions, this symptom can show up as a failure to notice social cues.

Many social cues are subtle. A momentary facial expression here, an oblique comment there. If you aren’t paying attention, or if you’re just kinda sorta paying attention, there’s a good chance you’ll overlook whatever verbal or non-verbal hint was being sent your way. While you’re none the wiser, the other person becomes frustrated that you’ve blatantly ignored what should have been an obvious signal.

People with ADHD have a knack for inattentively skipping over details in whatever they happen to be doing. When they’re in social situations, that lack of inattention to details can take the form of a lack of attention to social hints and cues.

3. Knowing what not to say

If you were to verbalize every thought that came into your mind, you’d probably run out of friends pretty fast. The functioning of our society is predicated on our ability to know when to hold our tongues.

People with ADHD generally recognize when a comment is better left unsaid. Unfortunately, they often don’t recognize that until after they’ve made the comment.

Like interrupting people, this type of faux pas goes back to impulsivity and saying things as soon as they pop into your mind. People with ADHD don’t always take the moment to reflect on whether what they’re about to say is advisable. A lack of planning, deliberating and inhibition can lead them to rush into making comments they know better than to make before they’ve had time to come to this realization.

4. Keeping emotions in check

People with ADHD frequently struggle to regulate their emotions, getting carried away by whatever they’re feeling in the moment. In social situations, this trouble with stepping back from emotions can manifest as acting on emotions impulsively, even when more more restraint is wiser.

For example, someone with ADHD might express anger in a way that’s counterproductive or get swept up in a wave of enthusiasm over a new commitment without stopping to think through the consequences.

Generally, ADHD-related impairments in managing emotions can get in the way of using emotions in a way that’s productive. In social settings, that means saying and doing things emotionally that you later regret.

Taken together, these ways that ADHD symptoms influence social skills have real effects in the lives of people with ADHD. They can make it harder to form new friendships and throw a wrench into old ones. They can complicate relationships and even, over time, end marriages.

If you have someone with ADHD in your life who has these ADHD-related deficits in social skills, it’s important to recognize that these behaviors aren’t personal. Rather, they’re the result of ADHD symptoms. Interrupting, making inappropriate comments, not noticing social cues, and expressing emotions in a counterproductive way are a direct consequence of symptoms like inattention and impulsivity.

So if you yourself have ADHD, what can you do about these behaviors? The first step is to recognize that you have them. You aren’t going to be able to make your ADHD symptoms just go away, but if you note the specific ways those symptoms manifest while socializing, you can address certain behaviors.

If you find that you frequently interrupt others, for instance, you can set a deliberate goal of listening until the person you’re talking to is done with what they have to say. You don’t need to aim for perfection. Simply developing awareness will help you reduce the extent of these behaviors, ultimately allowing you to get more enjoyment from your relationships and social interactions!

Image: Flickr/UnknownNet Photography

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