How ADHD Affects Social Skills In Preteens and Teens

Mastering social skills can be difficult under the best of circumstances. However, for tweens and teens it can be especially challenging. They are meeting new people, learning where they fit in, and even working on identifying their own personalities. On top of all that, there are the feelings of peer pressure, the onset of sexuality and hormones. This can all add up to one big complicated mess.

Take all that, and throw in ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Now you have the recipe for disaster. A relatively common characteristic of ADHD is difficulty in social interaction. Do you know how ADHD affects social skills? Here are a few reasons here: It can make it difficult to pick up on social cues of peers, control the “foot-in-mouth” syndrome, and control their emotions. Having grown up with undiagnosed ADHD, and now having a preteen diagnosed with it, we know first hand the ramifications ADHD can have on socialization.

How ADHD Affects Social Skills

How ADHD Affects Social Skills

There are several social skill components that are important to master to be socially proficient. Those elements include managing emotions, showing consideration and concern for others (empathy), establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and handling challenging situations both constructively and ethically.

Since ADHD kids often have great difficulty in picking up on social cues, act on impulse, and over personalize other’s actions as being a form of criticism, it is very difficult for them to maintain relationships. This can have a negative impact on any future social skill building techniques that ADHD preteens and teens need to learn.

ADHD preteens and teens are often picked last for a sporting team or are the one who seems to always hover in the background and not be included as much as their peers. At 49, I can still remember how much I hated team sports in physical education. I was always picked last, and even the team who got stuck with me didn’t want me. This does not help all when it comes to building confidence and self-esteem.

My daughter has already experienced many of these problems, and she is just finishing 6th grade. Thank goodness I recognized the traits and was able to get her diagnosed and start treatment several months ago. Due to early diagnosis and counseling, I pray things will start turning around for Megan in Junior High School this next year and the rest of her years in school will be much more positive.

It is imperative for a child who is diagnosed with ADHD begin learning social skills as early as possible. Creating healthy social skills will have a significant impact in all areas of their life, throughout life. It could also help prevent years of feeling different, inadequate, being left out, and the feeling of isolation.

In Megan’s case, we started her with counseling almost three years ago for extremely high generalized anxiety and panic attacks. We then added medication at the beginning of 5th-grade when her panic attacks were so extreme they were causing her to isolate herself from going out. Plus she was missing school more and more due to the severity of her panic attacks.

The medication put a stop to the panic attacks, but she was still anxious. Every single day she still complained of a “tummy ache”. At the beginning of 6th grade, we changed Megan’s counselor. We were not seeing any additional improvement and felt we had gone as far as we could with that counselor.

As of January of this year, Megan has not complained of a single “tummy ache”! The relief I feel for that alone makes me want to cry. I believe the change in counselors, as well as having an amazing, proactive 6th-grade teacher, made all the difference. Once Megan’s anxiety was completely managed is when it became evident that she also had ADHD. Her anxiety had been so high; it thoroughly masked the ADHD.

In working with Megan’s teacher, counselor and psychiatrist we took immediate action with the ADHD and have that managed very well now too! However, the years of anxiety and undiagnosed ADHD had already caused significant relationship damage in her elementary school. In fact all of the friends Megan had, are really no longer her friends. She has not been invited to a playdate or even a birthday party for several years.

I cannot even begin to tell you how devastating it is as a parent to watch your child experience this type of heartbreak. Since her behavior and actions were not something she had control over, it has been extremely difficult for her to understand the “why” behind it all. For her, she has seen it as people ditching her because she was bad, not good enough or made too many mistakes. When in truth, it was her impulsivity due to ADHD that caused her to make some really bad decisions. This caused parents to tell their kids to avoid her as a friend, as well as cause her to be “different” than her peers.

It is sad that so many people are unaware of the signs and symptoms of ADHD in girls. Perhaps if adults and kids knew how different ADHD looks in girls compared to boys, there would not be the knee-jerk reaction to cut them off. Or maybe there still would be. As parents, we have a profound responsibility to shape our children and their response to others.





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About the Author

I am a work from home mom who dearly loves her 15-year-old daughter, 11-year-old boy/girl twins, and husband. I love my life and feel very blessed by what God has provided for me.

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