ADHD and Friendship: Four Steps to Support Your Relationships

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

Workday over, you grab your bag and head out. As you drive past the local restaurant, you notice several colleagues at the tables. Huh, that's strange. I thought we all hung out together? I mean, we started working together at the same time. Averting your eyes, you feel a pang of rejection as you drive past. Why don't you get invited to these activities? Sighing, you turn on the radio and try to drown out those thoughts with music as you make your way home.


It's often not discussed as commonly as executive dysfunction, but people with ADHD can struggle to make friends. One of the reasons for this is that ADHD traits can be viewed as negative by neurotypical peers, making it difficult for us to connect and leading to greater peer rejection [1]. Most of the studies that have examined this ADHD struggle focused on children and adolescents, with little focusing on adults. These studies have indicated children with ADHD are more likely to have no mutual friendships or difficult friendships, than their neurotypical classmates [1]–[3].


Some research proposes that what ADHDers look for in a friend can also be different. A study of children with ADHD found they were more likely to view a best friend as someone who is "fun" and "mutually entertaining." In contrast, neurotypical children were more likely to consider a best friend someone who provided a "sense of security" [1], [4]. Children with ADHD were also more likely to engage with groups of their peers in unsuitable ways, such as off-topic conversations or talking more about themselves [1], [5], [6].


Overall, it appears that for ADHDers, friendships can look different and be more difficult to establish. So what can we as adults with ADHD do to support friendships and help the younger ADHDers in our lives? Below I have outlined four steps to help get started.


1. Communication Strategies

If you struggle in an area, it always helps to learn more about it and ensure you're using the right tools. Friendships and social situations are no different. Whether it's by finding resources online, training with your local helpline, or working with an ADHD specialist counselor or coach, understanding some of those social expectations can help you feel more confident engaging with friends.


2. Practice Conversations

Sometimes, the best way to learn is by doing. Once you have learnt more about communication, practice phrases and conversations as much as possible to help you in stressful moments. For example, if you struggle with over-sharing, you might write down and practice response phrases such as "what about you?" "what do you think about X?" That way, when faced with a potentially overwhelming social scenario, you can more quickly remember to use what you've learnt.


3. Support Close Friends

Despite studies showing adolescents and children with ADHD can experience rejection from their peers, one study also found they were also highly valued among their one or two close friends [7]. This friendship was believed to act as a protective buffer against feelings of rejection or loneliness when ADHDers were not part of the larger group. So, if you struggle with peer rejection and feel out of place due to your ADHD, remember to contact and spend time with your close friends. Chances are, they value you as highly as you value them.


4. Share Activities

When making friends, consider focusing on shared interests. If you're currently looking for friendships, one of the ways you might consider doing this by engaging in shared activities. Websites like meetup.com have various groups, while Facebook groups provide an online alternative for in-person communities. If you feel you value friendships for engaging companionship, sharing a hobby could help facilitate that. And if you struggle with small talk, a shared project could give you something to discuss.

Overall, although friendships can be hard with ADHD, it's important to remember you're not alone. A lot of other neurodiverse people also struggle with this. ADHDers have amazing strengths and unique ways of seeing the world that can make us great friends for those who understand and connect with us. So let's reach out and support each other; let's tell our close friends how much they mean to us.


Talk again soon.

Skye



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References

[1] D. M. Gardner and A. C. Gerdes, ‘A Review of Peer Relationships and Friendships in Youth With ADHD’, J. Atten. Disord., vol. 19, no. 10, pp. 844–855, Oct. 2015, doi: 10.1177/1087054713501552.

[2] B. Hoza, ‘Peer Functioning in Children With ADHD’, J. Pediatr. Psychol., vol. 32, no. 6, pp. 655–663, Jul. 2007, doi: 10.1093/jpepsy/jsm024.

[3] D. R. Blachman and S. P. Hinshaw, ‘Patterns of Friendship Among Girls with and Without Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder’, J. Abnorm. Child Psychol., vol. 30, no. 6, pp. 625–640, Dec. 2002, doi: 10.1023/A:1020815814973.

[4] T. Heiman, ‘An Examination of Peer Relationships of Children With and Without Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder’, Sch. Psychol. Int., vol. 26, no. 3, pp. 330–339, Aug. 2005, doi: 10.1177/0143034305055977.

[5] K. A. Dodge, D. C. Schlundt, I. Schocken, and J. D. Delugach, ‘Social Competence and Children’s Sociometric Status: The Role of Peer Group Entry Strategies’, Merrill-Palmer Q., vol. 29, no. 3, pp. 309–336, 1983.

[6] M. J. Ronk, A. M. Hund, and S. Landau, ‘Assessment of Social Competence of Boys with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Problematic Peer Entry, Host Responses, and Evaluations’, J. Abnorm. Child Psychol., vol. 39, no. 6, p. 829, Apr. 2011, doi: 10.1007/s10802-011-9497-3.

[7] K. Glass, K. Flory, and B. L. Hankin, ‘Symptoms of ADHD and Close Friendships in Adolescence’, J. Atten. Disord., vol. 16, no. 5, pp. 406–417, Jul. 2012, doi: 10.1177/1087054710390865.


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