Even ADHD Introverts Could Use a Hug Right Now
When lockdown began, the ADHD introverts released a coordinated sigh of relief. No more cocktail parties. No more water-cooler chit chat. No more awkward pleasantries at Little League games. But with time — and increasingly unsatisfying experiences with technology — more and more adults with ADHD (introverts and extroverts alike) are finding that what they miss most are physical connections with friends and family.
May 15, 2020
Extroverts miss them dearly — and many even physically ache for that sensation of intentional touch. They want to hug friends. They want to hug grandchildren. They are even tempted to hug the postal carrier — who, for some adults with ADHD living alone — is the only live human being they see every day in quarantine.
Even self-described ADHD introverts could use a hug right now. Half of the 1,841 ADDitude readers who completed our fifth survey about life during the pandemic identified themselves as introverts. More than 60% of them said they are missing people — and, specifically, embracing and breaking bread with friends — while in social isolation.
“I don’t really miss people per se, but I do miss my parents incredibly and some very close friends,” wrote one young woman with ADHD. “And I miss hugging them so badly.”
“I miss physical touch — to hug my mom, my adult children, and grandchildren; and to shake hands and get hugs at church,” wrote another young woman with ADHD and anxiety after eight weeks in lockdown. “I miss the real smiles of some of my coworkers and just the sound of their voices, which motivate me.”
Adults with ADHD Missing Personal Connections
Though 68.9% of adult survey respondents said they are using video calls to stay in touch with friends and loved ones, nearly everyone agrees that Zoom and FaceTime are poor substitutes for in-person interaction.
“While video chats help some, they are not a replacement for in-person connection,” wrote one middle-aged man with ADHD in California. “So much of communication and connection occurs through non-verbal cues and sharing of energies in close physical proximity… not getting any hugs or physical touch by another human is really hard after a while.”
This sentiment is shared across demographics — with one glaring exception: ADDitude readers who continue to work outside the home as essential employees. Those adults who see colleagues, patients, clients, and others regularly report far fewer social and psychological impediments right now, though certainly fear of contamination and exhaustion are both markedly higher among this group.
Overall, 64% of ADDitude readers report feeling anxious, worried, overwhelmed, or exhausted. Sadness was reported by half of all survey respondents, 41% of whom also reported feeling lonely. Even among readers working outside the home, these emotions run like a ribbon through recent survey comments.
“I live in a family of 7 and also work as a nurse aide, so I see family, patients and coworkers regularly,” wrote one recent nursing school graduate with ADHD and autism. “The one thing I do miss is in-person religious services. My religion was one of the most steadying influences in my life. It still is, but not having those in-person meetings has left me floundering. Like in all other areas of life, ADHD makes it hard for me to focus on spiritual things consistently on my own. I deeply miss the structure church meetings gave me.”
For others, the diminished structure and obligations of quarantine life have delivered some surprising insights into their ADHD brains.
“I do miss my friends a lot, but I am enjoying not having to make and stick to engagements,” wrote one young woman with ADHD in the UK. “The pressure to not have to make arrangements to see people is such a relief. I am very social and I have a big group of friends, so I am surprised by this. I am more of an ambivert than I thought.”
Extroverts are learning that they can enjoy time without obligations and interactions. And introverts are learning that they are not content simply staying at home.
“People scare me,” wrote one mother with ADHD. “I have major trust and intimacy issues, but I miss the freedom to be able to choose what to do, I miss interactions with strangers. I miss all the places that have shut their doors. I miss opportunities to experience life.”
Introverts, too, are finding that social isolation can dredge up feelings of rejection sensitive dysphoria that perhaps they haven’t felt since school days. Several reported that they’ve stopped texting people because the sting of not receiving a reply or reciprocal check in is just too great.
“At the beginning of the quarantine, I initiated communication with friends and colleagues, but I’ve given up on that because I now realize how insignificant I feel,” wrote one Maryland mother with ADHD and comorbidities. “I haven’t heard from people at work with whom I thought I had relationships, and I am very sad and probably even bitter about it if I’m being completely honest.”
“I have not maintained many of the acquaintances I had before the quarantine,” wrote one father of four. “Now that I must expend effort to initiate contact, I see how many of my interactions were motivated by social norms, and how much I depended on those for how I felt about myself.”
In some cases, video and phone calls also exacerbate communication challenges common among adults with ADHD and comorbid conditions like autism. If you can’t read the clues of body language, if you can’t gauge eye contact, if you can’t discern tone, if you can’t be sure the person isn’t playing a video game on the other end… all of that makes meaningful communication very challenging and somewhat hollow right now.
“It’s more stressful because I can’t see the people I’m talking to on the phone, so I can’t read their body language, and if I can’t read their body language, I can’t trust my interpretation of their words or tone of voice,” wrote one Canadian woman with ADHD and depression.
“I need social interaction more at this time than at any other, and haven’t had any other than online,” wrote one woman with ADHD. “But what counts for me is body contact, hugs and being m in the same room as others. I struggle with and dread phone and video calls.”
Children with ADHD Missing Personal Connections
Even among members of a digital generation, technology is not solving the loneliness problem of social isolation. Most parents report that their children with ADHD dislike phone conversations, get easily distracted and bored during video calls, and need a break from Zoom-like technology outside of school hours.
They are more likely to pursue interactive fun with siblings, ride bikes with neighborhood friends while staying at least six feet apart, or participate in socially distant activities like drive-by birthday parades.
“We do playdates in parks nearby, however we stay in the fields and only use kick balls, bubbles, race games, and any other ideas us moms find to keep families 6 feet apart or more,” wrote one mother of small children with ADHD and ODD.
“For my daughter’s birthday I planned a scavenger hunt,” wrote one creative ADHD mother. “I set up a group chat and got permission from everyone to leave a gift and a clue outside their house. I dropped off clues and gifts to 10 people (family and friends) and asked them to not to touch them. The next morning, I messaged that we were beginning our rounds. When we pulled in, they each came to the door and said happy birthday to her from more than six feet apart. It was a lot of work and planning, but so worth it for her to be able to actually see people.”
Of course these creative work-arounds don’t work for many adolescents and teens with ADHD, who are connecting with their friends via xBox games and Discord chats. Nearly 48% of ADDitude survey respondents said their children are using video games to connect. This solution gives parents simultaneous relief and anxiety — more specifically, worry about the bad habits their kids are forming on platforms ripe with potential risks.
“My kids are gaming online a lot,” wrote one mother of four teens — three of whom have autism. “They are sick of each other and of the intense emotions that each is displaying. My 11-year-old is suffering from lack of routine and frame of reference outside of our family. And my 17-year-old is suffering because her gaming interactions are only with friends who are doing very poorly with their mental health. It hurts to know her friends are not ok and one friend has even made a suicide attempt.”
Nearly 31% of children with ADHD are using social media, namely Discord, to keep in touch. The time they spend on Instagram, Snapchat, or even Facebook is, for many parents, a break from 24/7 parenting, which is no less exhausting now than it was when stay-at-home orders began.
“My kids (ages 9 and 5) compete every waking second for my attention and feud with each other to get it — interrupting and talking over people, singing loudly and yelling to get attention, and even resorting sometimes to hitting,” wrote one California mother with ADHD and comorbid conditions. “I can’t help one kid or spend time with one, without the other freaking out and interrupting but yet refusing to share their time with me with each other. It’s mentally exhausting.”
By and large, parents report that their younger children are forging stronger relationships with their siblings, even if the fighting is more frequent. They are thankful for the playmates and are figuring out ways to accommodate disparate play “needs.” The reality is not pure, conflict-free joy, but it is working on some level.
Parents of only children are worried. Social isolation feels more stark and more potentially dangerous to come caregivers who answered the ADDitude survey.
“My child doesn’t have any siblings and is sad that she only has her parents and grandparents as companions every day,” wrote the mother of one 8-year-old girl. “She has OCD and Tourettes, and they have both been high since the school closed. I’m honestly worried about the trauma of this and her overall mental health.”
For other children, particularly those who suffer from social anxiety and/or were bullied at school, isolation has brought relief.
“My son is thriving without the need to impress anyone or fit in with a societal agenda that doesn’t fit with his strengths and seems to just exacerbate his weaknesses,” wrote the mother of a 17-year-old with ADHD. “He said he has never felt better about himself.”
What Comes Next for ADHD Families in Isolation?
Believe it or not, we’re a week away from Memorial Day — the traditional kick-off to summer. But nothing is traditional about 2020. A third of ADDitude readers who would normally send their children to summer camp — day camps or overnight camps — say they will not do so this year. Roughly 12% report that their camps have officially announced they will not open for business this year. Another 20% said they have decided to forego camp no matter what. Meanwhile, 24% are still waiting to hear from their camps and another 19% is still weighing options and deciding what to do.
The only certainty is uncertainty. Only 2.5% of parents who would normally send their children to camp are positively, definitely doing so this year. That is staggering.
And this statistic draws attention to a strong theme running through the survey deployed on May 4 to ADDitude newsletter subscribers and social media followers: Almost no one is ready to return to life as it was before the pandemic.
Most readers say they have not fully considered and plotted out their post-quarantine life because the science is shifting daily. They are following the news and not seeing the markers they need — millions of daily tests, namely — to re-enter the world with confidence. The prevailing sentiment is this: It’s just too soon!
“I need to keep us safe, so that involves following the guidelines from the CDC, WHO, and logical science,” wrote one Minnesota mother of an 8-year-old with ADHD. “Testing, medicine that improves the cure rates, and a vaccination are so important to lifting the shelter-in-place orders.”
“I have elderly parents who need me to get groceries, medications, cook, clean and take care of them,” wrote one respondent who feels it’s too soon to talk about the “after.” “I cannot put them at risk. I will be on lockdown until we have some certainty regarding this virus.”
“I’m scared that others will not take anything seriously and things will be worse,” wrote the parent of a 13-year-old with anxiety. “I am thinking how I have to be more focused, organized and aware for the foreseeable future. Though it feels overwhelming, my family and I will remain vigilant until it’s safe to emerge from our cave.”
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Updated on May 18, 2020