"Mommy, No One Likes Me:" Social Skills in Children with ADHD
I'm dropping my son off at morning daycare. There are three other children there already, and they're playing with those rings you toss like a Frisbee. While I'm signing my son in, I hear him say, "I've got something that's much better than those." He's holding up a Star Wars ship.
Under the pretense of giving him a goodbye shoulder squeeze (no hugs from Mom in front of other kids at his age), I whisper, "Honey, it's not nice to say that your toy is better than someone else's or to try to grab all the attention." "Okay, okay," he says impatiently. I stifle a sigh as I leave, crossing my fingers. I hope his school day will go well.
There can be positive aspects to having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) when it comes to social skills. My son has never been shy with adults or other kids. We call him our "little cruise director" because whenever we brought him to/picked him up from school, as early as preschool, he greeted almost everyone he saw, adults and other kids, by name. While we were visiting California prior to moving out here, we went to a new park where, of course, he didn't know anyone. Within five minutes of our arrival, I heard him saying, "Hey, kids! Let's pretend the playscape is a pirate ship."
For the most part, however, ADHD tends to engender more challenges than benefits when it comes to social skills. Outgoing can become attention-seeking and boastful, as in my opening example, and take-charge can become aggressive and bossy.
Inattention and impulsivity, the hallmarks of ADHD, can interfere with a child's ability to observe peers' appropriate behavior and model it effectively. Impulsivity leads children with ADHD to interrupt others while they're speaking. In class they frequently "talk out" without raising their hand. The inattention aspect of ADHD makes it hard for children to focus on a conversation effectively enough to be a good listener.
Children with ADHD also can have trouble reading social cues such as body language and facial expressions. They don't catch warning signals of displeasure that would let children without ADHD know that they're heading in the wrong direction in a social situation.
Children with ADHD also tend to have trouble learning from past experience. While most children will learn from a social blunder and are unlikely to make the same mistake again, children with ADHD will usually need help to learn a new, more positive way of acting in a given situation.
Due in a great part to this inability to succeed socially, many ADHD children have either a single friend, or none at all. Friendships can provide a buffer against stress and psychiatric problems, but many children with ADHD go through childhood without close friendships and the self-confidence that comes from being accepted by one's peers. Indeed, the constant negative feedback from peers and adults can destroy a child's self esteem and self confidence. Interpersonal problems can continue into adolescence and adulthood, and can lead to mood and substance abuse disorders.
One of the most heartbreaking things your child can tell you is, "No one likes me." Parents of a child with ADHD hear it often. Fortunately, there are ways to help your child become more socially adept. I'll be looking at those options in my next SharePost.