Making Friends

Why Kids with ADHD Struggle To Make Friends

A new study shows that kids with ADHD struggle with social situations and making friends – whether they are taking medication or not.

Sad lonely ADHD female student sitting on stairs
Sad lonely ADHD female student sitting on stairs

Children who have ADHD have fewer friends, are less likely to be accepted by their peers, and are more likely to experience social rejection during their teenage years, regardless of whether or not their symptoms of ADHD continue.

This rather grim prognosis is the most recent conclusion of scientists researching the affect of ADHD and socialization. Dr. Catherine L. Bagwell, from the University of Richmond in Virginia, led a team of researchers who interviewed over 100 13- to 18-year olds with ADHD and their parents and teachers. The researchers compared their findings to interviews with 100 non-ADHD teens. Youngsters who had been diagnosed with ADHD as children had fewer close friendships and were more often rejected by their peers than those who did not have the disorder, according to interviews with the adults. The study was published in the November 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Social problems may continue regardless of medication treatment, as the use of medication to treat ADHD did not appear to influence friendships or whether a teen was rejected by his or her peers.

“Given the … importance of peer group acceptance, friendships, and peer networks for adjustment, adolescence may be a particularly difficult time for youths with a history of ADHD,” wrote the authors of the study.

Social skills are important

Social competence, not academic skill, is the primary determiner of adult success, according to Richard Lavoie, director of the Schwab Foundation for Learning. Lavoie defines “social competence” as an understanding of what is appropriate and the ability to successfully apply that understanding in social situations. Thus, knowledge is not enough; even those who understand the subtleties of social interaction may have a hard time making friends because of their behavior.

Do people who have ADHD choose to be rude? Michele Novotni, author of What Does Everyone Else Know That I Don’t?, doesn’t think so. “It can be more of an automatic reaction due to the impulsivity,” she says. “Nonetheless, they do engage in socially unacceptable behaviors in social situations.”

Novotni explains that there is a difference between knowing and doing. “Many people with ADHD know the appropriate social behavior, but just don’t do the appropriate social behavior,” she says. “Rather than a lack of knowledge, at times it’s a lack performance.”

Sound familiar? Novotni’s words echo what many of us have heard since kindergarten: “He knows what to do, he just won’t do it,” or, “She knows the material, but she doesn’t complete the assignments.” The gap between ability and performance is one of the hallmarks of ADHD. Such inconsistent behavior can have a devastating impact on friendships.

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