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ADHD and Child's Social Life

Amy M. Schlessman, PT, DPT, DHS

April 30, 2017



How can ADHD affect a child's social life?  


Social skills are very important for adults and children. Five ways that ADHD can affect your child's social life include:

1) Difficulty making friends: The child may interrupt. They do not notice how their behavior affects others. They may look like they are not paying attention when another person is speaking. They may be intruding on the friend’s personal space.

2) Quickly loses friends: It could be because the child is intense and demanding. They have difficulty with turn taking and compromising.  

3) Struggles with Conversation: They are easily side-tracked. People may misinterpret the intent of their words or behavior.

4) Overreacts to situations: They struggle with self-control.

5) Difficulty with planning and follow through: They experience difficulty playing games and working on group projects.

If a child with ADHD experiences all of the above five difficulties, the result is a more pessimistic view of his or her social world.

Problems with Peer Relationship/Peer Impairment

In 2007, Hoza et al. conducted research on children with ADHD to determine what type of problems with peers and relationships occurred. They found that having positive peer relationships is developmentally important for all children, whether they had ADHD or not. If the child with ADHD has low acceptance or rejection by peers, this places the child at risk for a host of serious negative outcomes. Peer impairment is present in both girls and boys with ADHD. Once that peer rejection occurs, overcoming a negative reputation with peers can be extremely difficult. Once a child is labeled as ADHD by peers, a negative process is set in motion where children suffer more negative treatment by peers. Treatment of peer problems in children with ADHD is extremely difficult. The current research and studies have yet to identify a treatment method that normalizes peer functioning of children with ADHD.

Academic and Educational Outcomes

ADHD is associated with poor grades, poor reading, and math standardized test scores and increased grade retention (Loe et al. 2007). It's also associated with increased use of school-based services (e.g., special education), increased rates of detention, expulsion, and ultimately with relatively low rates of high school graduation and postsecondary education. Children in community samples who show symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, with or without formal diagnoses of ADHD, also show poor academic and educational outcomes. Pharmacologic treatment and behavior management are associated with a reduction of the core symptoms of ADHD and increased academic productivity, but not with improved standardized test scores or ultimate educational attainment.

Untreated ADHD can lead to academic failure, poor self-esteem, accidents, and injuries. It can also lead to alcohol and drug addiction, delinquent behavior, trouble interacting with peers and coexisting conditions. Children with ADHD also may be more likely to have other conditions such as anxiety disorders, learning disabilities, depression, increased injuries, bipolar disorder, behavior problems, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, Tourette syndrome, sleep disorders, bed-wetting and peer problems.

Motor Coordination Problems

In a study by Fliers et al., they looked at motor coordination problems in children and adolescents with ADHD. They reported that 1 in 3 children with ADHD had motor coordination problems. As occupational and physical therapists, this has a direct impact on us. How does that affect a child in the home, in the community, in extracurricular activities, in the school environment? How does that affect the children and adolescents that grow to be adults who are also continuing to experience some symptoms with ADHD? The take-home message here is clinicians treating children with ADHD should pay attention to co-occurring motor coordination problems because of this high prevalence and the negative impact of motor coordination problems on daily life.

amy m schlessman

Amy M. Schlessman, PT, DPT, DHS

Amy is an Assistant Professor in the Physical Therapy Program and a Center of Teaching Excellence Faculty Liaison at the University of Findlay. She is the Website Co-Chair and Zoom Committee Chair for the Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy. Amy has been practicing as a school-based PT for over 18 years, focusing on health promotion and physical activity embedded into academics and interprofessional collaboration, while closely working with educators, administrators, therapists, and parents. Her research on pediatric health promotion was published in Pediatric Physical Therapy. Amy also published, “Recycle Bin Boogie: Move and Learn with Recyclables,” a physical activity book combining academic concepts with common household recyclables. She has presented regionally and nationally on a variety of topics related to health promotion, active learning, school-based therapy, and special education. 

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