Communication

Eye Contact

Some one asks:

“I am 54 and was recently diagnosed with ADD. My problem is that I’m unable to look people in the eye when I talk to them. How can I improve this character flaw?”

Michele answers:

eye contactMany people have difficulties with eye contact, which is not a character flaw, but rather learned behavior. To learn how to establish better eye contact practice with people who you feel are safe and not likely to criticize you. Tell them what you are working on and ask them to give you feedback for short periods of time. Gradually improve your eye contact by prompting yourself to look at others whenever you are talking. It will help cue you to look at the person. Later, you can add looking at them while they talk.

Maintaining steady eye contact is different. You may look away now and then but try to aim for no more than about 25% of the time. If you begin the feel uncomfortable emotionally as you increase your eye contact, you may want to see a psychologist/counselor for emotional support.

Falling out of touch

How you can restore friendships that really matter.

Are you missing old friends—people you once loved to talk to and spend time with, but with whom you’ve lost touch? What went wrong? Maybe they moved away. Maybe your interests diverged. Or maybe you said or did something that drove them away. (That’s not unheard-of for folks with
ADHD.)

Wouldn’t it be great if you could resurrect relationships that used to sustain you? Well, I’m here to tell you that you can. All you need is a do-over.

Let me explain. Not long ago, I was walking by a school playground and stopped to watch four girls who were playing kickball. One of the girls, shorter than the others and sporting messy pigtails, gave the ball such a mighty kick that she fell down from the effort… but the ball rolled only a few pitiful feet. She got up and, without missing a beat, said, “I need a do-over.”

The other girls quickly assessed the situation and agreed. And so she got a second chance, this time with better results. The girl certainly looked happy as she ran to first base. So did her playmates.

As I continued on my way, I realized that the do-over is a powerful tool — one with applications that go far beyond childhood games. A do-over can fix all sorts of sticky social situations — including those involving close friends and family members. Of course, the sad truth is that, as we get older, we are less inclined to ask for, or grant, do-overs. And so a minor misstep — perhaps something as simple as making a careless remark or forgetting a birthday — puts a chill into even our most treasured relationships.

If neither party makes an effort to ask the other what’s wrong, the chill turns into a deep-freeze. No more calls or e-mails, no more getting together. In this way, we get cut off from countless wonderful experiences. What a shame!

It’s no secret that ADHD can complicate relationships. Unfiltered words, missed social cues, forgetfulness, quickness to anger, and other problems can offend others and make them think that you don’t care. Perhaps you could benefit from putting the past behind you and forgiving a friend. Perhaps you need to ask someone else to get over her own bad feelings and give you another chance. Perhaps it’s a little of both. Whatever the specifics, I invite you to begin the new year by trying a do-over. Here’s how:

Four quick steps that will help you reconnect with old friends.

  1. Name a person you used to enjoy spending time with but from whom you are now estranged.
  2. Ask yourself what caused the estrangement. Did you have a fight? Did you drift apart? Did the other person stop returning your calls or e-mails? Was the other person always “too busy” to get together? You may not even know what happened—that’s OK.
  3. Ask yourself how you feel about the demise of the relationship. Do you still miss spending time with the other person? Are you angry? Hurt? Confused?
  4. Make a phone call or write an e-mail or letter. Tell the person that you miss him or her. Ask if it might be possible to get together to talk about the relationship. You could write something like, “I want to see if there is any way for us to be friends again. I never meant to hurt you. If I did, I am sorry. You are important to me, and I miss you. If you would like to see if our friendship can be restored, please call me, so we can get together to talk. If not, I’ll be disappointed, but I’ll respect your wishes.”

You may decide that it is not worth the investment of time and energy to reconnect. But even if that’s the case, do your best to let go of any negative emotion you feel when you think about the lost relationships — whether it’s anger, sadness, or simply regret.

Writing in a journal is a great way to let go of negative emotion. So is visual imagery. For example, imagine attaching your feelings to balloons and watching them float up into the sky. Or imagine smashing some dishes.

In the spirit of the new year, see if you can reestablish at least one relationship. Consider making a phone call or writing an e-mail or letter telling the person that you miss him or her. Ask if it might be possible to get together to talk about the relationship.

If it’s possible that you did something to hurt the other person, offer an apology. Maybe you’ll be rebuffed—or maybe you’ll find that your old friend is just as eager as you are to reconnect. You never know until you try.

This article comes from the December 2006 / January 2007 issue of ADDitude. To read this issue of ADDitude in full,  purchase the back issue and SUBSCRIBE NOW to ensure you don’t miss a single issue.Copyright © 1998 – 2007 New Hope Media LLC. All rights reserved. Your use of this site is governed by our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. ADDitude does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this web site is provided for educational purposes only. Additional information, click here

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Conversational Difficulties in Adults

Q:

“I’m 42, single, have no children, and live alone. Because I have had difficulty with conversations most of my life, I am shunned by family members and co-workers. What can I do?”

Michele answers:

Sometimes it is not what we say, but the way we say it that matters most. Personally I would prefer a world where being right was all that mattered, but that isn’t the world we live in. From your email, it seems like you need to refine the art of social interaction. It also sounds like you don’t know what social errors you are making, so you don’t know how to improve.

I recommend that you consider using the Social Skill Checklist in the back of What Does Everybody Else Know that I Don’t? (Specialty Press, 1999). You can fill out the checklist and ask others to also fill out the checklists to help identify your social strengths and areas that need improvement. The checklist should provide a safe manner of obtaining feedback that others might not usually give.

Another strategy is to ask others directly what you could do to improve your conversations and social interactions. Common ADHD social errors can include:

  • interrupting
  • talking too much
  • talking too fast
  • going off track
  • not paying attention
  • not maintaining balance in relationships
  • impulsively blurting out words that would be better left unsaid
  • not being reliable, and
  • inappropriate body language.

Once you have identified the social errors you are making, you will be able to work on learning different methods of interacting that facilitate connection rather than alienation. You may find help learning the new skills through reading the book, through coaching sessions, or with a therapist trained in social skill acquisition for those with ADHD. Fortunately, there are specific skills that you can learn to improve the social connections in your life!

Conversational Difficulties

SW in NJ asks:

I’m 42, single, no children, and live alone. Because I have difficulty with conversations most of my life, I am shunned by family members and coworkers. My opinions don’t seem to count, though many times people say, “I should have listened to you.” What do I do next?

Michele Novotni answers:

Sometimes it is not what we say, but the way we say it that matters most. Personally I would prefer a world where being right was all that mattered, but that isn’t the world we live in. From your email, it seems like you need to refine the art of social interaction. It also sounds like you don’t know what social errors you are making, so you don’t know how to improve.

I recommend that you consider using the Social Skill Checklist in the back of my book What Does Everybody Else Know That I Don’t?. Fill out the checklist yourself and also ask others you trust to do the same to help identify your social strengths and areas that need improvement. The checklist should provide a safe manner of obtaining feedback that others might not usually give.

Another strategy is to ask others directly what you could do to improve your conversations and social interactions. Common AD/HD social errors can include

  • interrupting,
  • talking too much,
  • talking too fast,
  • going off track,
  • not paying attention,
  • not maintaining balance in relationships,
  • impulsively blurting out words that would be much better left unsaid,
  • not being reliable,
  • inappropriate body language, etc.
Sometimes it is not what we say, but the way we say it that matters most.

Once you have identified the social errors you are making, you will be able to work on learning different methods of interacting that facilitate connection rather than alienation.

You may find help learning the new skills through reading the book, through coaching sessions, or with a therapist trained in social skill acquisition for those with AD/HD. Fortunately, there are specific skills that you can learn to improve the social connections in your life!

Struggles With Relationships

An adult with ADHD asks:

I am almost 42 years old and I struggle so much with relationships. It seems as if my brain just shuts off and nothing will come out. I enjoy being with people but not being able to relate (just hold a simple conversation) is so hard. At times, I just have to leave because I get so nervous and fidgety that it makes every one around me feel anxious too. I really want to overcome this problem but have no idea where to start.

Michele Novotni answers:

I’m sorry to hear that you are struggling so much in the area of social relationships. However, you are not alone. In my recent book, What Does Everybody Else Know That I Don’t?, I quoted a man with similar feelings. He wrote:

I wanted to tell you about how socializing is work. Most well adjusted people do their best to balance the percentage of time they spend working and relaxing or recreating. Further it is usually best not to play at work or work when you are supposed to be relaxing, that tends to ruin both activities. Most people put socializing in the “play” category; it’s relaxing and recreational. People with ADD have to put out so much effort to socialize, it ends up in the “work” category. It’s not relaxing at all… No wonder we’re always exhausted.

Once you recognize that interpersonal relationships can and do require “work” for people with AD/HD, you may feel less anxious and frustrated.

If your expectation is that listening is hard, you are more likely to gear up to the challenge. However, if your expectation is that it should be easy, you may often find yourself frustrated and overwhelmed.

You could also benefit from learning to understand your own frustration/anxiety tolerance levels and planning ahead to not exceed your limits.

If you can only listen to a boring story for five minutes, have an excuse ready (i.e. bathroom, need something to drink, eat, call the office, etc.) or plan to think about something else until the person is finished talking. If you pre-plan your escapes you are more likely to be socially appropriate and not feel so anxious or overwhelmed.

You also may only be able to comfortably attend a get together for two hours. Plan accordingly.

You could also try finding ways to enjoy the situation more. What are your expectations? Perhaps don’t try to focus on all the details of a conversation, just try to understand the basic idea.

Medication often works well to help people focus better in social situations. Unfortunately, many only use their medication for work or for academic activities leaving the social areas of their lives unsupported. Social relationships are at least equally important to the quality of life. If you take medication, make sure it’s helping you during these times.

Discover what frustrates or overwhelms you most and try to pre-plan methods to meet the challenge. Try reading some books on the topic of social skills and/or conversation. If needed, seek the help of a professional counselor or coach.

Make a Great First Impression

6 expert tips for adults with ADD who want to make a good first impression. How to watch what you say and how you say it.

John had had it with judgmental people, so he found a way to screen them out: He would no longer shave, bathe regularly, or wear clean clothes. He thought that if people were interested in him despite his disheveled appearance – and his sometimes off-putting adult ADD behaviors – they were his kind of people. It turned out that John, one of my clients, was right. The handful of friends he made were definitely not the judgmental type.

Am I suggesting that you, too, thumb your nose at social norms? No. I just want to remind you that first impressions have an enormous effect on our personal and professional relationships. They dictate whether you get a job or a date or make a friend – and, as they say, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

Folks with AD/HD often have a hard time with first impressions; their hyperactivity and inattentiveness may be misinterpreted as a lack of respect for or interest in others.

If you get off on the wrong foot, acknowledge the difficulty and ask, “Can we begin again?”

Most people judge others in the first two minutes of a first encounter – some experts say the first three seconds. Consequently, it’s wise to do all you can to make a good first impression. You know the importance of a smile and a firm handshake, as well as of eye contact. (It’s been estimated that one’s appearance counts for more than 90 percent of the overall impression one makes, while the words one speaks count for less than 10 percent.)

Here’s what else you can do:
Choose your attire carefully

Try to figure out what other people will be wearing – and aim to match it. This might require some detective work. The day before a job interview, one of my clients stood outside the office building he was going to, checking out what the employees wore to work there. Most wore suits – so he did, too.

If you’re uncertain of what to wear to a social event, call ahead and ask.

Be on time

In most cases, that means being 10 to 15 minutes early. Keeping people waiting is a sure way to make a bad first impression.

Watch your speaking voice

Our style of speaking can affect others more than we think. People with the hyperactive form of ADD often talk too loudly and too rapidly. Those with the inattentive form tend to speak too little and too softly. Physical prompts, such as a vibrating watch (like the one available at WatchMinder.com), can remind you to slow down – or to speak up.

Be a good listener

Rein in your impulsivity or impatience, and let others finish their thoughts before speaking. If this is hard for you, press your tongue against the top of your mouth as you listen.

Then, reflect back what they said before speaking about yourself. Not sure what to say? It’s hard to go wrong with “tell me more.” Using the other person’s name a time or two will earn you brownie points.

Make sure you have something to say

Many people with ADD see small talk as a waste of time rather than the tension-breaker and relationship-builder it is. One way to make small talk easier is to keep up with current events.

Most news sites on the Internet carry the big stories in an easy-to-read format. If you’re to meet with parents of your child’s classmates, look over the notes about classroom activities that the teacher has sent home in your child’s backpack.

Be careful with humor

Since you don’t know the sensitivities of the people you are meeting, avoid jokes and funny comments until you know them better.

This article published by permission from ADDitude Magazine April/May 2006 issue of ADDitude.

To read this issue of ADDitude in full, purchase the back issue and SUBSCRIBE NOW to ensure you don’t miss a single issue. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited. Subscribe to ADDitude online or via toll-free phone 888-762-8475.

Communication Secrets for ADHD Spouses

Clear Up Confusion

Photo credit: holder from morguefile.comUse this simple, effective relationship advice to begin speaking the same language as your non-ADD partner and clear up conflicts in your ADHD marriage.

I want my husband to understand that I don’t do it on purpose. He thinks that I ‘forget’ to close the cabinets or ‘forget’ to put something away on purpose.” Ginny, a client in my group for adults with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD), was sharing her frustrations over living with a non-ADD husband. Her need for ADHD relationship advice is common.

Alan, who nodded in agreement, added, “I wish my wife understood how hard I’m trying. She just doesn’t get how much effort it takes for me to do things that come easily to her.” Those two comments opened the floodgates, spurring a lively discussion about the challenges of marriage and ADD.

ADHD Relationship Advice: He Says, She Says

A successful ADHD marriage depends on honesty. Below are some comments I’ve heard repeatedly from both my ADD clients and their non-ADD spouses. If they ring true to you, use them as relationship advice, or talking points, before your relationship hits a rough patch.

ADD Spouse

I wish you really understood ADD and its impact on my life.”
“I’m not lazy or stupid.”
I’m really sorry to have to put you through this.”
“It’s difficult for me to plan, organize, and pay attention to details. In fact, those tasks exhaust me!
“Be patient with me. I need support, not criticism.”

Non-ADD Spouse

“When you keep me waiting, or don’t follow through, I think you don’t value my time.”
“You need other strategies and support for managing your condition. I don’t want to be your only form of support.
Let me help you. I’m usually better on project management or time-sensitive tasks.”

When I met with some of my clients’ partners—many of whom don’t have ADD—they had their own frustrations. “Sometimes I think I have another child,” “Why can she focus on things she enjoys?” “If she can do it sometimes, why can’t she do it all the time?” were common remarks.

Although all married couples have to navigate challenges, communicate effectively, and work cooperatively, ADD places strain on a relationship. Many of my ADD clients have partners who are so highly organized that they are jokingly accused of having Attention Surplus Syndrome, or ASS. Over time, it seems, the “opposite” qualities that originally attracted the two to each other lose their appeal.

When a relationship hits a rough patch, I advise couples to focus on each other’s strengths, not their weaknesses. I tell them to think of themselves as a team.

Every winning team needs a variety of skill sets to make it work—players who can execute a detailed game plan in a timely manner, and those who inspire with their high energy and spontaneity. A football team comprising quarterbacks only won’t win on game day.

Play the Rating Game

Gauging a couple’s responsibilities and needs—both of which may have changed since you walked down the aisle—is a productive way to start. One strategy for doing this is describing—on a scale of 0-10—how important or exhausting a task is for each of you.

For example, instead of telling your partner it was hard to organize the holiday party, tell him, “It was a 10—or an 11—to put that party together.”

Couples are sometimes surprised by the results of this rating game. One couple found that having down time after work was low in the husband’s list of needs, while his wife rated getting help in the kitchen a 10. The result? The husband helped with dinner prep the second he got home from the office.

Ginny and Alan went home and discussed how much energy (once again, 0-10) they had to expend on tasks with their partner. Each was genuinely surprised at the effort required to do some tasks he or she had thought were effortless. They also discussed how important they considered each task. This gave Ginny and Alan a clear sense of what was important to each of them, as well as to their spouses.

Armed with this information, they renegotiated responsibilities. Ginny realized that her husband didn’t care about eating a gourmet dinner (it was a three, according to him) as much as having an uncluttered chair to sit on in the family room (a whopping nine).

Ginny and her husband didn’t diverge on everything. They both gave a 10 to one important area: wanting to be loved and appreciated for themselves.

Playmates and Friends

DA in Alabama says:

I have a son with ADHD who is 9 years old. He prefers to play with girls instead of boys. He seems to fight with boys and act as a caretaker for girls. Is this another symptom of his condition?

Michele Novotni answers:

AD/HD does not in itself cause children to be drawn to interact with the opposite sex. However, it could be that your son has found more acceptance and nurturing with girls than he finds with boys. There are often gender differences in the way children react to differences with boys often turning to aggression and girls more often being more nurturing. This is not true in all cases. Perhaps he has just found people he likes who like him AND they happen to be girls. For many with AD/HD finding anyone who likes them is a wonderful gift!

This article is published by permission from ADDitude Magazine ©2004. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited. Subscribe to ADDitude online or via toll-free phone 888-762-8475.

Son Acts Withdrawn

CP in Alabama says:

My 10 year-old son is very withdrawn and acts depressed in social situations. When an adult speaks to him or asks his name he just mumbles and won’t look them in the face. His Dad and I have told him how this embarrasses us and have practiced social skills with him. He seems so sad at times and we want to help him. Any suggestions?

Michele Novotni answers:

Many people with AD/HD also struggle with depression. AD/HD wears people out and can sometimes take on toll on one’s self esteem. This combination often can lead to depression, which can make many reluctant to engage in social interactions.

I recommend having your son evaluated by a psychologist or psychiatrist for depression. It will be important to understand the reasons for his sadness and withdrawn behavior before effective social strategies can be developed to help him. Given your description of his behavior it does not appear to be a skill deficit problem.

As you anticipated, it is best to avoid putting pressure on him by emphasizing how his behavior embarrasses you. It is important to realize that this is not a personal reflection on you or your competence as a parent. It sounds like he needs love and acceptance as you all work through whatever emotional issues he may be feeling. I wish you well.

This article is published by permission from ADDitude Magazine ©2004. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited. Subscribe to ADDitude online or via toll-free phone 888-762-8475.

Conversational Skills in Children

A parent asks:

Is it normal for children with ADD to prefer a small group of friends because it is too difficult to interact in a large group because of the chaos and quick pace of activity?

Michele Novotni answers:

At times it can be very overwhelming for both children and adults with ADD to participate in a group situation. The number of distractions increases as the number of people increase. Many people with ADD have difficulty filtering out distractions even in a one-to-one setting. Also, transitions in conversation can move at a fast pace in group settings and many with ADD have difficulty keeping track of conversations. Another difficulty can be the need to wait longer for a turn to speak. Some suggestions for group situations:

  • Work on moving the conversation along by asking questions related to what someone was saying.
  • Rather than thinking about what you want to say in a large group, learn to just listen, relax and enjoy all the energy and chaos of a group.
  • Practice conversation skills in a very small group first (2-3 people) and gradually expand the size of the group.
  • If you do like to talk in a large group setting, be careful not to dominate the conversation.
This article is published by permission from ADDitude Magazine ©2004. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited. Subscribe to ADDitude online or via toll-free phone 888-762-8475.

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