ADHD hampers communication

Carrying on a conversation with someone who won’t allow a word in edgewise can be difficult

Special to The TribuneMarch 17, 2011 

Most of us associate ADHD with an inability to focus or sit still. But the disorder can also have a severe impact on communication skills.

Experts list numerous criteria that are used in diagnosing ADHD. Several relate directly to the manner in which people verbally interact. For instance, children and adults with ADHD may talk excessively. They can easily dominate conversations with topics that are of no interest to others. They may relate long, excessively detailed stories. Or they may talk without pausing and prevent anyone else from joining in.

Listening is extremely difficult. People with ADHD may have trouble staying focused on what is being discussed. They can also be so eager to talk that they pay little attention to what is being said. As a result, they frequently miss relevant segments of the conversation. Speakers become annoyed because they feel they’re being tuned out.

People with ADHD can be notorious for interrupting. They may eagerly barge in to ask a question. But they are just as likely to introduce a completely irrelevant topic, causing bystanders to scratch their heads at the direction the conversation has suddenly taken.

When others are speaking, folks with ADHD have trouble waiting until it’s their turn. Rather than allowing each member of a conversation to have ample time to express his or her views, they respond quickly again after each statement, effectively elbowing others out of the verbal ring.

Folks with ADHD can be overly opinionated and combative. They are quick to “tell things as they are,” and may go to great lengths to defend a belief.

People with ADHD sometimes have poor judgment about content. They may tell jokes or share information that is inappropriate to the setting. They may also ask questions that cause others to feel uncomfortable.

Finally, children and adults with ADHD may speak in an urgent, pressured manner that is completely unrelated to the situation at hand. They may pepper their sentences with unnecessarily forceful words, such as “rush,” blast” or “kill.” The hurried verbiage is frequently difficult to understand. It can also feel stressful to those who hear it.

Of course, folks with ADHD don’t intend to dominate conversations or make others squirm. Most are trying their best to fit in. Rather, it is the very nature of the disorder that sets the stage for their social ineptness. The underlying issues of impulsivity, excessive energy, scattered thoughts and inattention to detail are on display in the social arena.

The National Resource Center on ADHD reports that 50 to 60 percent of children with ADHD have difficulty getting along with other children. Adults with ADHD often feel lonely and isolated or wonder why they don’t fit in.

Improving how they interact with others would be a good place to start.

Tips for conversing with ease

Do you have ADHD and need to improve your communication skills? Start with these ideas:

• Slow down. Folks with ADHD can have boundless energy, but that same energy often causes unwelcome interference. Get in the habit of taking a few deep breaths before you talk. If you notice you’re hurrying your speech or talking too much, take some more deep breaths and calm yourself down.

• Observe others. Watch people who possess competent social skills and analyze what they do. Perhaps they are excellent listeners or make positive statements to others. Identify specific characteristics then incorporate them into your personal repertoire.

• Allow for equal air space. The best conversations generally allow for equal exchanges between all participants. Person A speaks a certain length of time. Person B speaks for about the same length of time. Become aware of this pattern. Stop yourself after a few sentences. Let others have their say.

• Avoid being contentious. Most people don’t want to hear your opinions. They’re a quick way to turn a pleasant conversation into an argument. Unless you’re in a debate class or running for office, keep most of your views to yourself.

• Practice echoing. Learn to listen more closely by checking in with what others have said: “It seems you said that. Am I right?” Listeners can then provide you with direct feedback and help you avoid making errors.

• Role play. Rehearse good communication techniques with a trusted family member or friend. They’ll be able to give you feedback. You’ll be able to instill new skills.

For more information, visit the following websites: National Resource Center on ADHD,, and Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD),

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit

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