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Help for Children With Social Problems

My daughter, Natalie, who has ADHD, has trouble making neurotypical friends her own age. Her solution: start playing with younger kids, who like the attention from an older child. Is there any reason I should be worried about this?

Natalie and I were outside last night when a mom and her three kids, who recently moved to our neighborhood, walked up to our house. Two of the kids were holding copies of my picture book, Dog Tales: The Adventures of Smyles, for me to sign. Natalie chatted them up while I went into the house to find a blue Sharpie. She kept up the conversation until I came back out, pen in hand, and sat on the front steps while the kids spelled their names aloud for the me as I inscribed their books.

Pausing to look at the two youngest, the boys, Nat said, “Wait a minute, didn’t I chase you today at recess?”

They both smiled and nodded shyly.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can wreak havoc on a child’s social life. Kids with ADHD tend to mature more slowly than their peers and have trouble reading nonverbal social cues. The school playground can be a feelings-hurting, anxiety-provoking, isolation-creating challenge, rather than the memory-making, BFF-finding, steam-releasing outlet it’s meant to be. Natalie comes home with stories of having no one to play with or approaching a group of her peers just to hear, “Natalie’s coming. Run!”

Now, it appears, she’s found a way to compensate. Natalie, a fourth grader, is playing with much younger kids.

Earlier this week, after school got out, she and I stood in front of the building, because Natalie wanted me to meet her friends. Two little girls burst through the doors. “Hi, Natalie!” they both said.

“Want me to chase you?” Nat asked, and they squealed and ran. Nat chased them, growling. When she caught them, they laughed, delighted by this attention from a big fourth grader.

“See you tomorrow!” they said and headed for the school bus.

Playing with younger kids can be a healthy coping skill for our kids. It gives them a chance to have someone look up to them, the chance to be a leader — heady stuff for kids who may often be excluded or even bullied by their peers. Plus, for once, their differences may be overlooked. And ADHD children may have more in common with younger kids than they do with their typically developing peers.

As long as the little kids want to be chased, I don’t see a downside to Nat chasing them. Parents, am I missing any potential problems? Or is my gut instinct right — that a friend is a friend at any age?

The ADHD Club