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Ask an Expert: Helping a child with ADHD learn social skills.

Q. My son is 12 and has ADHD. How do I help him develop social skills? He seems to want to get involved with all the social stuff of middle school but always seems to be a step behind. He does not plan well for events and seems to never know all the details. What can I do to help him? – Kim of Arvada

Often,the complexities of social development are overwhelming for children with ADHD, as difficulties with organization, impulsivity, and working memory may result in your son falling out of step with his peers.

If this is the case, you can help structure and support your son’s successful social development in a variety of ways:

  • Emphasize quality over quantity. Friendships take time and effort to develop. Help your son identify two or three peers that he would like to spend more time with. In this process, generate a list of activities that your son enjoys and that his peers may also enjoy. This could include going to movies, playing video games, or shooting baskets. You might consider hosting a get-together at your house, so that you can get to know your son’s peers and help guide him in choosing friends that he is likely to be compatible with. All it takes is a couple of friendships to build a social network.
  • Document social goals. As your son begins to develop these friendships, work with him to identify one or two social goals each week. Keep a calendar together and prompt him to write down important social events. On the calendar, prompt your son to write down the phone numbers or e-mail addresses of one or two peers whom he can contact to ask questions about events, directions, or other needed information.

Sometimes, children with ADHD have problems initiating and sustaining conversations and social interactions.

If your son seems to not listen to you, has inconsistent eye contact, monopolizes conversations and/or frequently interrupts you, there is a strong possibility that he displays these same behaviors with his peers.

While adults can adapt their communication to accommodate children with social skill deficits, other children tend to be far less flexible. If this is the case for your son, keep in mind that peer rejection can lead to low self-confidence and social anxiety.

If left unchecked, these behaviors and the social difficulties they generate can lead to serious social and emotional concerns. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and you may wish to consider consulting with a child psychologist or other mental health care provider now to ward off greater social difficulties later.

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