Adult ADHD: The Importance of Learning Social Skills

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Previous log entries have discussed Adult Attention Deficit Disorder and its treatment. One of the major areas of concern with Adult ADHD is the fate of the spouse who does not have the disorder. Several spouses married to partners with ADHD have pleadingly expressed their frustration to me with the following exclamation: "He (She) is driving me crazy." It is for this reason that many ADHD marriages do not fare very well.

The ability to interact well with other people, including spouses, friends, and people in the workplace and in the classroom depends on the ability to:


1. Be attentive.

2. Behave in responsible ways.

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3. Control impulsive behaviors.

4. Remember important details.

All four are these abilities are precisely what is lacking in those with ADHD and that is why people feel "driven crazy" by them. On the surface nothing seems wrong with ADHD people. For this reason people have difficulty understanding why they act the way they do and often misinterpret their behaviors. They are often blamed for being rude, inconsiderate, self centered, irresponsible, lazy and ill mannered. It is mistakenly thought by people that these behaviors are deliberate and willful. Even those husbands and wives married to ADHD partners and knowing about the disorder tend to be in denial and insist that they are deliberately being thoughtless and provocative.

More than a few people have written in to us in a various states of exhaustion and anger in dealing with their spouse and at the "end of their rope" about what to do.

Let’s talk about some of what can be done with the hope that some marriages can find their way towards a more normalized life.

First, while medication is an important help in reducing the acuteness of many ADHD symptoms it is not a cure for this disorder. The fact is that even after a regimen of medication has been started it will be necessary for the patient and their spouse to learn how to cope with this disorder. In other words, both husband and wife should learn the necessary skills and techniques to reduce their sources of conflict and enable the ADHD person to live a better adjusted life. To this end Social Skills Training is very important.

Social Skills training can be provided by either a coach or therapist who specializes in this area of work. More information about either coaches or therapists can be found at a number of web sites but the best is probably CHADD, or Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder. The URL for the part of the site dealing with adults is:

Here are a number of strategies that ADHD people can use and that their families can practice with them:

1. Read everything you can about ADHD and developing social skills. Reading should be done by the individual with the disorder and their spouse. Remember the old saying: Knowledge is power.

2. Have a positive attitude about ADHD. The tendency is for those with the disorder to be very bright and creative. They often have a good sense of humor even though they can get depressed due to the frustrations of dealing with ADHD and with the problems that accompany having it.

3. People with ADHD often blank out at times, missing important pieces of information. This is why they are often late to places or fail to get to them at all. It is important for them to ask others about what was just said, to repeat the information, to have a calendar or palm pilot in which they can transcribe dates and times of events and even names of people. Upon meeting new people it is a good idea to repeat their names.

4. It is important to observe others and the way they interact. This is called Observational Learning and is an important part of the way we become socialized. It never stops and we learn gestures and expressions from watching other people. ADHD people should make a conscious effort to do this and with the help of their partner so as to learn what their errors are and to learn new and better ways of interacting.

5. Help your partner identify those social behaviors that they are really good at and develop those further. There is nothing wrong with enhancing strengths while learning new behaviors.

6. Rehearsing and role playing social situations is another helpful way to go about improving social skills and married couples can have fun with this.

Keep a sense of humor about things. A lot of what seems to go wrong when you have ADHD can be really amusing. Laughter is the best medicine if you learn to laugh together. And remember, your spouse is not doing these things on purpose.

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