Tips for Improving ADHD-Related Social Skills Deficits

Five young people sit at table in coffee shop. One has digital device open. All are laughing and talking and looking at each otherWhen people think about attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), social difficulties are not typically among the first things that come to mind. However, many children, teens, and adults with ADHD often find themselves struggling socially in a variety of ways.

People who have ADHD commonly struggle with the following social issues:

  • Difficulty taking initiative to make plans
  • Not taking steps to maintain contact with friends they don’t otherwise see regularly
  • Forgetfulness or canceling plans last-minute (and thus being perceived as “flaky”)
  • Being perceived as too talkative (and thus off-putting)
  • Trouble following conversations and contributing in a way that enhances them rather than shifts the focus (especially in group situations)
  • Difficulty organizing ideas logically and concisely when talking (i.e., taking 5 minutes to tell a story that could be told in 30 seconds)
  • Missing social cues

If you have ADHD and identify with the struggles above, here are some ideas and tools you can use to help improve your social functioning:

  1. Strive to make plans with friends while still with them (i.e., after a movie, look at the calendar and schedule plans for the following week). This may make it easier to sustain seeing friends frequently.
  2. Schedule calendar events at preset intervals to remind you to call friends who live far away.
  3. Don’t commit to plans if unsure you will be free.
  4. If you have to cancel plans, give as much notice as possible and explain why. Offer to reschedule right away.
  5. Practice explaining things or telling stories concisely on your own. Go through what you want to say initially. Then tell it again and try to cut down the amount of time it takes. Next, try to summarize what you want to convey in a few sentences. The more you practice this, the easier it may become.
  6. When telling a story, think about the punchline or end point first. Try working backward.
  7. Practice following multiple people talking in a conversation. For example, watch a television show with scenes where multiple people are talking. Watch it first without sound, then watch with only sound. Finally, watch again with sound and picture. This may help improve your ability to use your different senses in observing social interactions. Write out key points each person is saying and draw a diagram or other visual representation, if needed.
  8. In social situations, always look at the person speaking; watch their body language and facial expressions. If you’re more of a visual person, imagine a line like a spiderweb being drawn back and forth from person to person as they speak. Then imagine a few keywords being displayed above them. Creating visual representations may help you follow conversations.
  9. If you often forget key things discussed, write them down, perhaps in your phone after each social interaction. Then you can refer to them before seeing the person again. For example, if your friend is dating someone or just broke up, make a note about it so you can refer to it for next time.

I hope these suggestions are helpful.

© Copyright 2017 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Carey Heller, PsyD, ADHD: Inattention, Impulsivity, and Hyperactivity Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • loren

    February 3rd, 2017 at 10:31 AM

    It can be so overwhelming to be with a person all of the time who has these difficulties! So I can’t even imagine being that person, having my mind go from one thing to the next without ever really sorting and making sense of it all. It must make life itself feel very random and scattered.

  • George

    February 6th, 2017 at 7:18 AM

    My hope would be that if you surround yourself with a close circle of friends then they will get to know you well enough to help you through what could wind up being tough social situations for you.

  • Carey Heller, Psy.D.

    February 7th, 2017 at 4:24 PM

    Thank you for reading this article and sharing your thoughts.

  • jade r

    February 7th, 2017 at 4:52 PM

    I have a friend, and I wouldn’t dare revel her name, but we used to be so close once upon a time but now she can never seem to keep our plans and is always bailing out on me. I used to think that it must be me but now I am thinking that no, it’s her, and she just can’t commit. I am tired of being left out in the cold by her inability to plan or keep plans I should say, and it is driving a real wedge between the two of us.

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