How ADHD May Be Impacting Your Child's Social Skills and What You Can Do To Help
ADHD and Its Impact on Social Development
We use social skills to interact and communicate with those around us every day. We do this through the use of both non-verbal communication (eye contact, facial expressions, body language) and verbal communication (volume, speed, tone of voice). Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can face challenges when it comes to understanding and implementing these social skills. They may find it challenging to make and keep friends because of their brain’s executive functioning impairment. The brain’s executive control manages their ability to wait their turn, avoid getting distracted, direct their actions, control their emotions, and use their working memory to respond in social settings. Compared to peers, the executive functions in children with ADHD can be delayed up to 30%.
Symptoms of ADHD in social interactions can include:
- Difficulty listening to others
- Missing pieces of information
- Being distracted by sounds or noises
- Missing social cues
- Becoming overwhelmed and withdrawn
- Frequently interrupting
- Sharing scattered thoughts
- Being hyper-focused on a topic
- Talking rapidly or excessively
- Goofy behaviour at inappropriate times
- Entering others’ personal space
- Displaying aggression
- Initiating conversations at inappropriate times
The Cyclical Nature of Social Challenges
When children with ADHD enter a social setting, they may have a hard time sharing, taking turns, listening, and picking up on social cues. They often become bored, distracted, or check-out of the conversation. Students with ADHD may have a hard time managing their emotions when interacting with their peers. They can become easily overwhelmed, impatient, or frustrated.
In social interactions, when children with ADHD become distracted or dominate the conversation, their peers may view them as uninterested and unkind. These children will likely be avoided by peers. This leads to missed opportunities to practice social skills and decreased confidence in their abilities. Without social ties, children will begin to feel inadequate and develop negative emotional reactions to social interactions. Some children with ADHD may even avoid social interactions altogether in an attempt to avoid further rejection.
Why Are Peer Relationships Important?
Adequate social functioning and healthy peer relationships are essential for an individual’s optimal functioning. When children have successful interactions with their peers, they learn to cooperate, negotiate, and problem-solve with others. With these abilities, they are able to build positive relationships with their peers. Therefore, social supports are protective factors. They provide a sense of belonging, purpose, acceptance, and being cared for. As children enter adolescence, they develop an increased need for peer interactions and have a heightened sensitivity to social stimuli. Through repeated social interactions, friendships develop which teach adolescents how to work in a group, solve problems, recognize others’ points of view, manage peer conflict, and be accepting of diverse groups.
Social Skills and Academic Success
Being present and ready to learn throughout the day means students are able to regulate their bodies, thoughts, emotions, and understand social cues. For students with ADHD, this may be difficult to achieve because of their inattentive, hyperactive, and/or impulsive tendencies. As a result, these students may be limited in their ability to understand and adapt their social behaviour during an interaction at school. Here are some examples of how limited social skills impact academic performance:
Students who are disruptive may struggle with:
- Playing in team sports during gym class
- Staying on task in class
- Interrupting when others are speaking
Difficulty with perspective-taking may lead to challenges with:
- Collaborating with their peers
- Participating in class discussions
- Working on group projects
Students who have a difficult time initiating conversations may find it challenging to:
- Ask for help from their peers or teachers
- Work in groups
- Present in front of others
Although children may have a hard time managing their symptoms of ADHD, practicing social interactions at home can help them overcome these barriers at school. Students who have well-established social skills have an easier time interacting with their teachers and peers, as well as adjusting to different peer groups.
How to Support the Development of Social Skills during the Pandemic
The global pandemic has made it increasingly difficult for children to build and practice their social skills due to limited opportunities for in-person interactions. As parents, you may be wondering how to navigate and support your child’s social development. There are many ways you, as a parent, can teach and create opportunities for your child(ren) to practice social interactions at home. Here are some examples:
- Discuss social cues, norms, inappropriate and appropriate behaviours within movies, TV shows, and stories. Ask your child: What did the characters do well? What could they have done differently? How did a character’s behaviour affect the others? How did the characters feel? Help your child identify the similarities and differences between the characters.
- Role-play situations that your child may encounter or has encountered. This can be a great way to model and practice turn-taking, perspective-taking, and navigating conflicts.
- Encourage your child to keep a journal to reflect on their social interactions. They can write about their feelings and the feelings of others during their interactions and ways they could improve future interactions.
- Educate your child on how to use online video call platforms and video games safely so that they can continue virtually interacting with their peers and building their social competence.
- Play interactive games (i.e., Pictionary, Jenga, Scrabble, Uno, Sorry, Hedbanz, A Penny for Your Thoughts, Apples to Apples, What Do You Meme?) with family members to develop their communication, turn-taking, and perspective-taking skills.
- Create stories together by taking turns saying one sentence each.
- Outline the social behaviours you would like to see in your child and ensure they clearly understand each one.
- Ensure you provide feedback immediately and frequently regarding your child’s social behaviour. Reward displays of positive interactions with verbal praise to help build your child’s confidence.
Children with ADHD may have a challenging time understanding social cues and effectively implementing social skills. Areas of social functioning that are impacted include: listening to others, initiating conversations at appropriate times, frequently interrupting, missing social cues, withdrawing, and talking excessively. These challenges can influence everyday interactions at school, at home, and within the community. The pandemic has significantly decreased the quality and quantity of opportunities to practice social skills. While these burdens continue to exist, parents can support their children to understand and practice developing their social skills at home.
Resources for Parents
- Getting from Me to We: How to Help Young Children Fit In and Make Friends by Shonna Tuck
- Social Skills Comics for Teens – Real Teens Show How to Behave in Real Social Situations by Elizabeth Bennett