Guest Blogs

“My Son Gets the Brush-Off from His Peers”

It breaks my heart when Ricochet is shunned by would-be friends. Even worse, he doesn’t see rejection coming.

Have you been on the receiving end of a “brush off”? When someone, say, makes an excuse not to accept your invitation to lunch. It happens to all of us from time to time, but it’s not the day-to-day norm — unless you have attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD).

Social skills don’t come naturally to most individuals with ADHD. Whether it’s saying something inappropriate without thinking, dominating a conversation, or seeming “weird,” there are many reasons friendships are tough to establish, and/or tough to keep, when you have ADHD.

More heartbreaking still is the fact that most kids with ADHD can’t read the social nuances of body language and tone of voice. Many ADHD kids hear their friends as though they’re a computer-generated voice behind a blank screen. They don’t see posture and facial expression, and they hear something like a monotone voice with no inflection. You can’t infer the mood of a person from that.

I’ve known that Ricochet — my pre-teen son who has ADHD, SPD, LD, and a gifted IQ — has struggled with social interaction for some time. When he was little, he’d ask the big kids on the playground to play, and stuck to them like glue, even when they were trying to ditch him. Once he entered the tween years, I realized how significant his inability to read other people really is. Now, in middle school, it’s a big problem.

Ricochet is literal. Twelve-year-old boys call each other “stupid” and tease each other to show camaraderie. Ricochet thinks he is being called names, not understanding that kids his age do it in jest, as some sort of (twisted) bonding ritual.

[Free Guide to Improving Your Students’ Social Skills]

I hadn’t considered his social challenges — beyond the fact that he monopolizes conversation and he can’t figure out people’s intentions — until recently. There are three other boys in our neighborhood who go to the same charter school as Ricochet, so we carpooled to and from school for a while. Ricochet rides only with me (not the other mothers) these days because four pre-teen boys in one car caused him sensory overload.

One time when Ricochet was carpooling, the boys talked about video games, because that is what Ricochet is an “expert” in. Some of the games, like Minecraft, allow you to play the game with other people from different locations. Ricochet excitedly asked one of the other boys for his phone number so they could meet up in one of the online games.

“I don’t know my phone number,” he responded.

“OK,” Ricochet replied. “I’ll give you my mom’s phone number, and you can call me.”

This boy is the most mature sixth-grader I’ve met. He knows his phone number.

“My mom doesn’t let me call people after school,” he replied, but Ricochet gave him my number anyway. My son couldn’t read between the lines.

[Free Friendship Guide for Kids with ADHD]

It’s been about a month, and the boy never called Ricochet, who got the brushoff. I knew the boy wouldn’t call the moment he said he didn’t know his phone number. Ricochet is oblivious.

I was furious that this kid brushed Ricochet off like that. I obsessed over it for days. My heart was broken that my son’s peers didn’t want to hang out with him. I realize his energy can be overwhelming, and that he seems extremely bossy, but he’s still a sweet kid with a heart of gold that deserves friendship.

Now that I have some distance from this incident, I can see the silver lining. Ricochet’s feelings were spared by being covertly brushed off. He would have been devastated if the boy told him that he didn’t want to meet up online or didn’t want to call. Sadly, though, that means that neurotypical kids get away with brushing off our special needs kids.