ADHD symptoms such as impulsivity, inattentiveness, and hyperactivity can cause difficulty in social situations. People with ADHD may talk over others, have trouble paying attention, or misinterpret social cues.

Social skills are patterns of behavior that help people communicate effectively. They include verbal and nonverbal signs such as gestures and body language.

Some people with ADHD may not recognize times when their behavior does not fit the accepted norm. This may cause difficulty in establishing or maintaining friendships.

However, therapy and other management strategies can help people with ADHD improve their social skills and form better relationships.

This article looks at some ways ADHD can affect people’s social interactions, strategies to improve communication skills, and the social outlook for people with ADHD.

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ADHD symptoms can include impulsive behavior, inattention, and hyperactivity. These symptoms can affect a person’s social skills.

According to the non-profit organization Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), these behaviors can lead to fragile relationships characterized by misunderstanding and miscommunication.

Most people start learning social skills in childhood, typically by watching others, copying behaviors, and receiving feedback.

However, children with ADHD may not recognize these learning opportunities and may not behave in accordance with cultural norms in the same way as their peers. These differences in behavior can lead to peer rejection, which further limits the chances for a child with ADHD to learn social skills.

CHADD also notes that one social skill people learn is not to point out another person’s mistakes. However, if people do not tell a person with ADHD why their behavior is inappropriate, the person may not realize what they have done wrong.

Social skills in children with ADHD

ADHD that begins in childhood can affect a child’s activities and relationships at school.

Children may have difficulty sitting still at school or may run around when asked to sit down. They may also talk excessively, interrupt others, or finish others’ sentences.

Other people may find these behaviors challenging. As a result, children with ADHD may find it harder to make friends. These behaviors may also lead to classroom disruptions and affect learning for the child with ADHD.

Informing teachers about a child’s ADHD can help them make accommodations to reduce distractions and the risk of disruptions.

Doctors recognize three types of ADHD, depending on the symptoms a person is experiencing. These are:

People with the mostly inattentive type may not seem to listen when someone else is talking and may have trouble staying focused on conversations. They may be easily distracted and have trouble paying attention to details. They may also avoid eye contact with others.

People with the mostly hyperactive type may not be able to sit still, or even sit in one place, very long. They may fidget and squirm in their seats. In conversations, they may interrupt others, finish others’ sentences, or talk over others. Children with these symptoms may cut in on others’ games or take their belongings.

People with the combination type of ADHD may have aspects of both types of behavior.

People with ADHD may also miss other people’s social cues. They may not understand a person’s tone of voice or gestures. They may stand too close to the person they are talking with or fail to read their facial expressions accurately.

Missing social cues can also be a symptom of autism spectrum disorder.

CHADD explains that many people with ADHD who have difficulty with social skills also have low self-esteem. People with ADHD may also experience rejection sensitive dysphoria after difficult social interactions.

However, with proper treatment and management strategies, people with ADHD can learn to recognize social cues and respond appropriately, reducing the risk of peer rejection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises anyone concerned about ADHD to talk with their doctor. If a person is concerned about ADHD and their child’s social development, a doctor will also be able to help.

Doctors may refer a person to different specialists, including developmental pediatricians and child psychologists.

Doctors may recommend psychological tests to assess a person’s social skills. They may also test the person’s visual and spatial skills.

They may look at how the person reacts in different social situations and ask other people the person interacts with about how the person’s behavior affects them.

Creating a picture of how well a person functions in social situations and at school or work can help doctors determine which social skills a person has trouble with.

According to CHADD, many people with ADHD can improve their social skills through therapy. This process may include:

  • role-play
  • modeling
  • feedback from the therapist
  • input from anyone else in the group

The National Institute of Mental Health highlights that doctors may also recommend therapy for the family members of a person with ADHD. This may help them learn new ways of coping with disruptive behavior so everyone can enjoy better communication.

Strategies for parents and caregivers

Doctors may recommend that parents and caregivers receive therapy to learn better ways of coping with a child’s ADHD symptoms. However, parents and caregivers can also help by recognizing and encouraging the child when they get things right.

Caregivers can reinforce positive social experiences with praise or rewards and point out any nonverbal cues that children may have missed. They may draw examples from TV shows, books, and real life.

Children with ADHD may not recognize when they are misreading social situations or know why their behavior is challenging for others. If a parent or caregiver notices something, they can tell the child and explain why in a clear, gentle way.

A doctor or therapist may be able to recommend the best ways to explain these learning opportunities to a child with ADHD. Caregivers and teachers must implement the same rules for the child to avoid confusing them.

Learn more about caring for a child with ADHD.

According to CHADD, many adults with ADHD say their symptoms interfere with their relationships.

People with ADHD can learn acceptable social skills and use them appropriately. However, CHADD calls for more research to determine how ADHD can affect a person’s relationships throughout life.

People with ADHD may have trouble understanding social cues and react inappropriately to situations.

Many people with ADHD find that the condition affects friendships and other social relationships. It can lead to feelings of isolation and low self-esteem.

Doctors recommend different types of therapy to help a person with ADHD and their family and friends learn to understand each other better.