One of my granddaughters graduated from college and is working in the Peace Corps. I find that the best way to chat with her is on Facebook. Recently, I compared an awkward situation she found herself in to something that she had experienced as a child. She quickly wrote back, "Grandpa, don't you realize that what you write on my Facebook page can be read by anyone who has identified himself or herself as my friend?" I did not, and I could not reach into my computer to delete what I had written before three of her friends had "liked" the comment, and probably many more had read it.
If you are impulsive, you know that uncomfortable feeling when you say or do something you wish you had not. You can't pull the words back or undo the action. You do damage control with your friends, family, or someone at work by saying, "I'm sorry. That is not what I meant to say," or "On second thought, maybe we could...."
ADHDers who are highly impulsive can check such misunderstandings when talking to a person face to face. The other person's body language and facial expression tell a lot. Your conversation mate will give you clues about whether your "witty" remark went over well. However, one-on-one isn't always a failsafe. Some people with ADHD can't read body language and facial expressions. Talking on the phone is hard for them, because they can't tell whether their words have offended someone.
Communicating on social media, however, is even riskier for someone with ADHD. The pace of communication is so fast that you have little time to think about your response or your words. There are no facial expressions, body language, or tone of voice to alert you if you have crossed a line. And when you say something out of line, everyone knows it.
There are many ways for a person with ADHD to make mistakes online. There's e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging, playing online games with friends, to name a few. After you click Send, you can’t pull your statement back. It's gone, everywhere.
Sorry, I Didn't Take My Ritalin
I have a colleague who works with me on a project for a professional organization. We both received an e-mail relating to this project asking for a quick response to a newspaper article. I was busy, so I e-mailed him, asking if he had time to respond or to do a first draft. He countered with an angry e-mail, saying, "Why do you dump everything on me? I lead a busy life, too." Before I had finished reading his response, my phone rang. It was my colleague. "Larry, don't read my e-mail. I forgot to take my Ritalin this morning, and I responded before I thought about what I was saying. I'm sorry."
Sound familiar? Does this remind you of your teen, who may have texted something in a hasty moment that got him in trouble with a friend? The digital revolution has brought many benefits, but it has increased the risk of speaking before we think.
E-mail is a more forgiving medium for ADHDers than social media. If you get angry or insult the recipient, you can send a follow-up e-mail or, as my colleague did, call right away. The offensive comment is between you and your friend, not out in a universe of "friends."
Fixes for Digital Blurting
My colleague found that being on medication for his ADHD decreased his impulsivity online. Now he makes sure he has coverage during most of the day, and avoids logging on to social media sites in the evening, when his medication wears off. Here are some other things you can do to lessen the chances of putting your foot in your mouth:
> If medication reduces your impulsivity, try to stay on your medication throughout the day, not just during work/school hours.
> Tape a sticky note on your laptop or home computer reminding you to pause before hitting Send. "Engage brain before engaging fingers" is a good prompt.
> Remind yourself to read what you've written before you click Send. This might slow down your communication, but it will keep you from insulting friends.
This article appears in the Summer issue of ADDitude.
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Discuss ways on reining in impulsivity in the ADHD Adults support group on ADDConnect.