“I’d Love to Have a Friend”

Making friends in college can feel like the hardest thing in the world — especially when you have ADHD.

College friends studying in the library

An ADDitude reader recently asked: “Ever since I can remember, I have had trouble making friends and keeping them. I am not good on the phone, so I don’t always return calls. I have trouble with time, so I am frequently late to dinners or movie dates with friends. I get impatient in conversations and want to move on to another topic. At this point, I feel I don’t have anything to offer as a friend. I am a sophomore in college and I would like to have a few friends — or at least one. Do you have any advice or strategies for me?”

Finding Friendship

Making and keeping friends is challenging for many people. Friendship takes time, energy, and commitment, and for those of us with ADHD, our struggles with time management, communication, and understanding social cues present big obstacles. But the rewards are worth the effort. Friends made in college can last a lifetime. Good friends coach each other through life’s tough moments and celebrate good times together.

I encourage you to look at your college years as a time of self-discovery and growth. The key to building friendships is to know yourself and the challenges your ADHD creates. You have done that already: You have identified your dislike of talking on the phone, your trouble making appointments, and your impatience during conversations. This is a good start. This year might be better for you, so be open to that possibility.

Friendships with ADHD people are difficult, but they can happen by using the strategies outlined here.

Phone Challenges

You say that it is hard for you to talk on the phone and to return calls. This is common with ADHDers, because we can be restless and distractible, and we can’t always find the right words on the spot. There are several strategies that can help. First, get caller ID on your phone, so that you have a moment to decide whether you are ready to speak to the person calling. Seeing the name of a friend can prompt you to remember the last thing you discussed or planned together. Even if you don’t remember, it’s OK. You can just pick up and say, “Hi, Anne, how’s your day going?”

[Finding New Friends]

When the phone rings, remember that it is sometimes easier to take a quick call than to call someone back.

> Limit distractions, such as music or the television.

> Have a notepad and pen ready to write down any plans you make.

> Keep the conversation friendly and to the point. If you’d rather text than talk, let people know. “I’m a texter. Just text me and I’ll get right back to you.”

> You can return phone calls with a text. First, listen to the phone message and write down on a notepad what was said. Then, write your response in a text. “I got your message, thanks. I can meet you at 6:00 p.m. at Tony’s Pizza.” This way, you have a record of your plan, and you can transfer that to your calendar, either the one on your phone or in the calendar/planner you carry with you.

> Try to return calls (via phone or text) within 24 to 48 hours, so you’re not putting it off, which will make you feel guilty.

You say that conversations are difficult for you because you feel impatient and want to move on to the next topic. Many individuals with ADHD feel this way. There are several things you can try to keep yourself on track:

> Take a deep breath and tell yourself you are going to listen and learn more about the person you will be talking with. Try holding your index finger and thumb together lightly. This can help with focus and patience. Look at the person speaking, nod as you listen, and then repeat one thing that was said. This shows you are listening, and encourages the other person to continue the conversation.

> Conversation may be easier while you are walking or jogging. Exercise can ease impulsivity and impatience. This may be the ideal way for you to build friendships. Try joining a running group or another intramural team. You’ll feel great physically, and you’ll meet people in a fun atmosphere.

[Free Download: 8 Ways to Get Better at Small Talk]

> There are other meet-up groups that might match you with people who have similar interests. What do you love to do? What kinds of friends do you want? It’s easier to start conversations when doing something interesting with like-minded people. Choose one activity a week to try. You don’t have to overbook your schedule to try something new.

> Another strategy is to observe others talking with their friends. How do they begin conversations? What do they do while they are listening? What is their body language like – personal space, eye contact, gestures? Mirroring conversations is an excellent exercise. Try out one or two things you observed, maybe a hand gesture or nodding while listening. You may be surprised how small gestures like this can improve conversations with friends.

Get a Handle on Time

You say you have trouble managing time and that you are often late for (or miss) movie or dinner dates that you’ve set up. Go easy on yourself. You need to set up organizational systems for success.

> Are you an audio, visual, or tactile learner? If you are an audio learner, set up alerts on your cell phone to give you a clear audible signal when it’s time for you to get ready to leave. If you are a visual learner, try using Post-It notes in obvious places – by the front door or on the bathroom mirror. If you are a tactile learner, have the things that you will need for your night out ready by the door: your keys, phone, wallet, purse, and so on.

> Understand that it will often take longer than you think to get ready to go out. Time yourself. How long does it take to choose an outfit? If it takes more than five to 10 minutes, plan your outfit earlier in the day or the night before, and have it laid out on your bed or on a hanger. Give yourself at least 30 minutes to get ready. Set your phone alert or write yourself a Post-It note with the time you will start to get ready.

Treatment Plan

If you need support and guidance as you try these strategies, check out your school’s learning center and counseling office. There may be ADHD support groups on campus or online through CHADD. Support groups can relieve the stress of thinking you are the only one having social challenges. You can learn from others who are coping with similar social and emotional stress.

Talking with a counselor can also be helpful. College can be overwhelming to people with ADHD – socially, academically, and physically. A counselor who is familiar with ADHD can ease your stress and guide you through your daily schedule, so you can make the most of your experience. Weekly counseling sessions offer a regular time to reflect and regroup.

If you are not taking ADHD medication, you may benefit from starting it. Make an appointment with a doctor on campus or with your doctor the next time you are home. ADHD medication improves focus and planning skills, both of which are important for social and academic tasks.

Many students benefit from regular ADHD coaching sessions. These are specific, skill-based, goal-oriented sessions that target the areas you need to improve and give you a chance to practice new skills with expert help. Check online for ADHD coaches in your area. If there aren’t any, work with a coach long distance, on the phone.

And remember: Go easy on yourself as you meet new people and try new things. If you approach college one day at a time, and get the support you need, you will build lasting friendships.

[Building Your Network of Friends]