Support & Stories

My ADD Sabotages My Social Skills Online

Problems with social media are common and frequent for adults with ADHD, who sometimes lack social skills and communication clarity online, where it can be more difficult to gauge feedback and social cues. Here, a woman with ADD explains how she uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other online platforms more carefully.

Problems with social media
Problems with social media

I’ve left several online groups lately. Not because they were full of mean people or because I lost interest in the topic (the popular Syfy show “The Magicians”). I didn’t leave because I was overly sensitive or unable to cope with the constant distractions and notifications.

I left because of my social skills; they are limited because of my attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD). The online environment exacerbated them so that my stress levels soared. I was terrified to post because I was constantly misunderstood. It wasn’t worth sacrificing my sanity to be involved in these groups.

I am not inarticulate. I have a decent sense of humor; I don’t mistake other people’s jokes for slights. However, like many women who grew up with ADHD, I lack basic social skills. I am not good at taking turns in conversations, or I overshare. My sense of humor is a little odd, and what I think is funny, others don’t.

These things are difficult in the real world. However, I can get over them quickly. If I have trouble with conversational turn-taking, and someone starts to speak when I do, I just shut up. If I overshare, I apologize with a “Sorry for the TMI,” which will usually make the other person laugh it off. If my joke falls flat, we move on. If I make a mistake and think an acquaintance is a friend — well, I might get my feelings hurt, but we re-establish the proper boundaries and we continue to like each other.

ADHD Shortcomings Live Forever in Social Media

The Internet, however, lives forever, and my Internet comments do too. Here’s an example. I got Discord, a social network geared toward the gaming community, and saw that a friend, not an acquaintance, had posted that she wanted to go to a Comic Con. I got excited and posted that I would love to go with her. Then I noticed that she had posted her comment two days earlier. I looked like an idiot who couldn’t read dates. And it was out there for everyone on the freakin’ server to see.

[Self-Test: Do I Have ADHD? ADD Symptoms in Adults]

One time, I was scrolling and saw a comment about a tattoo. I tagged the person, and asked her about it three days after she had posted. This was a major faux pas, and it ran counter to some digital code of ethics I’d never picked up on.

My humor doesn’t always come across as funny. Someone posted a poll about whether she should do certain things in her next fanfic (a story using the characters in a TV show). I voted and said she should kill off a certain character. I was joking, and I thought it was funny. She replied, tartly, “I’m not killing off so-and-so.” Ouch. I thought I was being funny. Apparently, I wasn’t funny. I had no idea that she wouldn’t take my comment as a joke.

There are many misunderstandings when I am online. A good friend thought I was talking down to her when I wasn’t. I admire her to the moon and back, and I was cheerleading for her. Another time, I seemed to be bragging about my writing cred, when I was only offering to help a person with her own writing.

I Can’t Hide Severe ADHD Behind a Handle

I thought my Internet handle could hide my severe ADHD. I was severely mistaken. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to find a group of friends who understand. I’ve become better about self-advocating, saying things like, “I have severe ADHD, so sometimes I may misunderstand things you say, and you may misunderstand me. Please give me the courtesy of asking me what I mean before you get offended.”

Honesty and self-advocacy are key if I want to avoid misunderstandings online. I’m friends with most of the people I’ve inadvertently offended. I apologize a lot. I encourage people to ask for clarification, and to say, “This doesn’t sound like you. Did you really mean to say this?” I learn from these experiences and I am slowly improving my online social skills. The people who interact with me are beginning to understand that neurodiversity exists, and that they need to make room for it. We’re not all the same, and we all deserve space and grace.

[Free Handout: Become a Small-Talk Superstar]

Elizabeth Broadbent is a hyperfocused ADHD writer, mama to three boys, and wife to one patient husband, all of whom also have ADHD. When she isn’t writing, she doesn’t know what to do with her spare time.