Like a Sore Thumb: Adult ADHD and (Not) Fitting In

A Vicious Cycle

How do adults with ADHD end up lacking in the social skills department? It generally starts in childhood.
 
Kids with ADHD need lots and lots of practice in order to learn healthy and appropriate social skills. Unfortunately, kids with ADHD -- especially those who are undiagnosed or untreated -- behave in ways that push other kids and even adults away. Others may see them as mean, annoying, or just plain weird.
 
As others begin to avoid them, children with ADHD lose critical opportunities for practicing social skills. They may easily grow to be "loner" teens and then to isolated, socially inept adults. However, the situation is not hopeless, and even the most isolated adults with ADHD can work on their social skills and begin to grow healthy relationships.
 

Finding a Healthy Balance

There are a few different ways adults with ADHD tend to view their social situation. Some are quite oblivious, without any insight into their bothersome and isolating behavior. Others are aware but have a "this is who I am" and "take it or leave it" attitude. Some are acutely aware of their social shortcomings and strive to fit in, but may be frustrated by constantly falling short.
 
No matter where you fall in this spectrum, it's just wise and socially responsible to work hard to be aware of a few types of behavior you really should avoid, such as:
 
  • Behavior that is very disruptive or exceptionally annoying
  • Behavior that is hurtful
  • Behavior that violates the law or company policy.
 
It may be helpful to enlist a friend or coworker (or two) to give you a signal or warning when you're crossing the line into these socially dangerous behaviors. You can work on the other, less harmful behaviors over time, but these three problems should be addressed right away.
 
Enlist the help of your doctor, and make sure you are getting the optimal ADHD treatment. Of course, medication is useful, but you might also benefit from counseling or behavior modification therapy.
 
Finally, you might also consider telling coworkers and acquaintances about your ADHD, if you haven't already. Don't offer up your diagnosis as an excuse or a "get out of bad behavior free card," but do let them know that you struggle with social situations sometimes.
 
And don't be too hard on yourself. Learning social skills takes time. Even with medication, therapy, and practice, you will still struggle at times, and that's okay. Your goal isn't to be a robot with perfectly polite behavior at all times; your goal is to be uniquely you while still being socially competent. 
 
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