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How to Make Friends When You Have ADHD

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Updated June 30, 2009

Making friends and maintaining friendships can be a struggle for adults with ADHD, but positive relationships are important in our lives. Without them we can feel isolated and alone. With them we feel connected and valued. Cynthia Hammer, MSW and ADHD Coach, provides some insight into social relationships for those with ADHD.

In What Ways Can ADHD Negatively Impact Social Relationships?

Cynthia Hammer: Recently, the headline on a news site listed the five best ways to be happy in life. The first thing listed was to highly consider the needs of friends. It would seem that those with ADHD might consistently receive a low score in this area. We get caught up in our own lives, challenged with trying to manage all that is happening, so that we often fail to think about others and what we can do for them.

When we are overwhelmed, even thinking about doing one more thing is one thing too many. If this "one more thing" is for someone else, it can easily never make it onto our radar screens. We tell ourselves, "It is not that important." "They won't notice that I don't send a thank you note...send a birthday card...get them a small gift of appreciation...call them to congratulate them on a recent success...whatever. The opportunity to show a friend that we care about them and that they are important to us comes...and goes....and we have done it again--or should I say "not done it again." Friends that don't feel acknowledged and appreciated on a regular basis can often fall to the wayside as they ask themselves, "What is there in this relationship for me?"

A recent client told me he enjoys having friends, but often gets bored with them, feeling the need for a break. He finds it hard to be consistent in regularly enjoying their company, regularly paying them attention and providing them with goodwill. On other occasions, something else takes precedence for how he spends his time. He chooses learning to use his new computer, as this interests him more than going to a movie with his friend.

His erratic behavior--"I want to be with you today but then might not want to see you for several months"--is not the way to handle friendships. The person on the receiving end of this kind of friendship might feel used--"He only contacts me when he has nothing better to do."

Do Memory Issues Associated With ADHD Ever Come Into Play?

Hammer: Yes, an additional challenge for many with ADHD is poor memories. What are the names of your best friend's three children? What schools are they going to? Where was it they last went on their vacation? Who is due to have a baby? And when? Being told these kinds of personal details and then not referring to them in future conversations presents a huge stumbling block to creating long-term relationships.

People want to feel they are important, that their activities and successes and failures are shared and valued by their friends. Friends who consistently say, "I don't remember that" or "I forgot you told me that." give the impression that they didn't care enough to remember.

In addition, people who avoid certain topics because they don't remember key information find it hard to build a long-term relationship. When you are unable to share memories and details of your times together, you give the impression that you are not truly interested in them and don't value their friendship.

Any Other Issues Regarding Relationships?

Hammer: There are the common complaints: People with ADHD don't listen. They interrupt. They introduce totally unrelated topics. In other words, they miss the beats of social interactions.

Interview continued on page 2...

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