How Adult ADHD Can Affect Social Skills And Relationships
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is mainly thought of as something that affects children. Sometimes it's still called by its older name - ADD, or Attention Deficit Disorder. ADHD is a developmental difference, not a mental illness, and can lead to two sets of symptoms: Inattentiveness, and hyperactivity and impulsiveness. People with it can mainly struggle with one of these challenges, or have both at once.
While the stereotypical image is of a fourth grader who can't sit still in class, adults can also have ADHD. As people with ADHD get older their symptoms become more internal. They're not as outwardly hyper and distractible, but they still have a lot of trouble focusing, staying on task, and getting things done. They can also be impulsive and feel drawn to active, stimulating activities. This naturally has a big effect on their higher education and work performance. Also, as this article will go into, Adult ADHD can also interfere with social skills and relationships.
There are a few reasons adults with ADHD can have trouble in social situations. The first is that their differences in brain wiring simply makes certain tasks harder for them. The second is that if they had ADHD as a child, that could have caused them to fall behind in learning social skills in the first place. Kids with ADHD are more likely to be rejected by their classmates, which gives them less opportunity to learn how to behave from their peers. The experience of having ADHD can also harm a child's self-esteem, as they may start to think of themselves as stupid or defective. Lastly, people with ADHD may have learning disabilities as well. Those can also make certain aspects of socializing harder to navigate.
If someone has a developmental difference or mental health condition it's sometimes easy to start thinking of that as the sole force affecting their actions. There's always more to people than a single issue they're dealing with. Everyone with Adult ADHD is going to come across differently, and show different symptoms, due to how the condition specifically affects them, and because of what the rest of their personality and life history is like. Also, if someone has trouble in certain social situations, it doesn't always mean it's the fault of a condition they have. In any group of people many of them are going to feel shy or not be the best at mingling at parties. You can't always say, "Oh, it's their ADHD that's doing it."
Below are some ways Adult ADHD can make social skills and relationships more difficult. If you're reading this article to try to learn about someone you know, and they haven't already been told they have ADHD, you shouldn't jump to any conclusions about what they might or might not have. Only a professional can officially assess and diagnose someone.
Difficulty reading social cues and non-verbal communication
In general adults with ADHD aren't the best at reading other people's facial expressions or body language, causing them to miss important information most of us would pick up quickly and instinctively. Partially this may because their ADHD makes it harder for them to interpret this channel of communication. They may also not be paying attention to non-verbal cues because their minds are distracted and focused on other things.
Blurting out inappropriate comments
One feature of ADHD is impulsivity. In conversations an adult with ADHD may accidentally offend someone by saying something inappropriate the instant it pops into their head.
This is another facet of being impulsive. Someone may frequently interrupt the people they're talking with. They may also butt into conversations. If they think of something they want to say, they may start speaking before taking the time to realize now wouldn't be the best time to do it.
Talking too much
Adults with ADHD sometimes talk on and on and on. This can be because they feel an internal pressure to keep speaking. They may also be enthusiastically chatting about a topic, and miss the non-verbal signs that the others aren't that interested and would like them to move on to something else.
Not being a good listener
The points above can contribute to an adult with ADHD not listening well. Rather than letting the other person speak, they're jumping in with their own points. Their distractibility and trouble focusing can also come into play. They may be trying their best to concentrate on what their conversation partner is saying, but their mind has three other things going on at the same time. This can get even worse during chaotic group conversations.
Coming across as distracted and spacey
This can be another effect of their difficulty with focusing on one subject. While trying to pay attention to another person, they may not be able to keep their mind from drifting off or fixating on something else.
Changing conversation topics a little too randomly
Someone with ADHD may start talking about something seemingly out of nowhere. While everyone else was speaking their thoughts went off in a different direction, eventually arriving at their new topic. However, they didn't let everyone else in on how they got there.
Doing inappropriate things to stimulate themselves in conversations
A person with ADHD may get bored during a routine conversation and do something counterproductive to try to spice it up for themselves. For example, they may start an argument or say something odd to see what kind of reaction it'll get.
Having trouble with their own body language and personal space
People with ADHD sometimes aren't aware of their own body language, and may adopt an awkward or closed-off stance without realizing it. They can also be overly fidgety. They may not have a sense of how much personal space other people need, and invade it without meaning to.
Their difficulty with getting things done affecting their friendships
Adults with ADHD have trouble managing their time, and starting and finishing tasks. This most obviously hinders their university education and careers, but it can also get in the way of their relationships:
- They can generally be seen as scatterbrained, flaky, and unreliable by their friends.
- They may often be late because they aren't good at giving themselves enough time to get ready and leave when they need to. They may intend to leave on time, then get distracted by something right before they have to head out the door.
- They may procrastinate on things like initiating a plan with someone, or contacting friends to keep in touch.
- They can frequently forget important dates, like friends' birthdays.
- They may get a plan going, but then not follow through on it. For example, they invite their co-workers over for dinner, but never get around to buying the food they need.
- More broadly, their whole lives may be up in the air, which indirectly impacts their friendships. For example, they may have trouble keeping a job, or having enough money in the bank.
All these little mistakes can add up, causing them to slowly lose friendships, or not get new ones off the ground.
Being irritable and quick-tempered
As I was saying in the introduction to this article, not everyone with ADHD presents in the same way. For some, not all, the hyperactive/impulsive side of the condition shows up as them being impatient, temperamental, and easily irritated. I don't really need to explain how this can sabotage relationships.
In their need for stimulation some adults with ADHD take a lot of risks. Channeled properly this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it can impact their friendships. They may party too hard, or do dumb physical stunts. Some people have no problem with that, but not everyone in their life may have the stomach for that lifestyle or behavior.
Lack of flexibility
This one can be a side effect of the methods someone can employ to keep their symptoms in check. Some adults with ADHD find they function best when they keep themselves to a tight, organized schedule. This can cause problems when they feel they can't stray from that structure. For example, a woman may have an evening routine she follows, and tries to force her friends to go along with it as well when they're all hanging out.
The effects of sensory processing differences
Some people with ADHD can perceive the world differently. For example, they may find certain sights, sounds, or smells unusually noticeable, distracting, and uncomfortable. That can have social side effects, like if they can't be at their best at a hectic pub because all the noise around them makes it too hard to concentrate on what their friends are saying, and puts them in a grumpy mood.
More details here: How Sensory Processing Differences Can Affect Adults Socially