School’s out for summer!
No more pencils…
No more books…
No more teacher’s dirty looks…
But for your child with ADHD, maybe the dirty looks from other kids continue and the social isolation he felt all school year only intensifies as he spends hour after hour in front of a screen during the long hot days of summer. For many ADHD children and teenagers, negotiating the subtleties of establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships is as challenging as any subject at school. At school, teaching occurs! And most of what is taught it pretty concrete…even the most abstract academic concepts are more black-and-white than the process of establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships.
Early in their development, children play together, at first side-by-side and then, cooperatively. This works for toddlers and preschoolers. As children get older, their use of language as a social tool becomes more and more critical in relating to others. By the time our children are in their early teens, initiating and sustaining conversations is at the core of all of their meaningful relationships. Making this transition is often tremendously challenging for the child with ADHD, and as result he/she is often left feeling lonely and on the periphery.
What makes the art of conversation so challenging for many ADHD children and teens (and yes, even adults), is that mastery requires that we all follow the many unwritten rules of conversation. It is important to appreciate that other than when we say to our kids, “Hey look at me when you are talking” and “Don’t interrupt me when I am talking,” we do not teach our children these rules. They learn them indirectly through observation and accurate interpretation of the subtle feedback that comes their way when they break a rule in conversation…and we know that observing, reflecting, and checking themselves are inherent weaknesses for people with ADHD. As a result, often, ADHD children and teens are unaware of the rules and struggle with the primary vehicle for relating to the people in their world.
Rules for Conversation
- Maintain eye contact with your conversational partner
- Take turns
- Pick topics that are interesting to your conversational partner
- Stay on topic
- Give verbal and nonverbal signs that you are listening and interested
- Carry your share of the conversation
- Do not monologue
- Stay connected to the content of what your partner just said
- Request clarification when you don’t understand what your partner said
- Change topics in a bridging sort of way or alert your conversational partner of a change
- Use a more formal style of talking with conversational partners who are less familiar or in positions of authority
Summer is a great time for our ADHD kids to improve their conversational skills. At The Being Well Center, I work with kids of all ages, individually and then in groups to help them clearly know and master the application of all of the rules to become more confident and competent as conversationalists. The progress they make is tangible and exciting for them. If your ADHD child or teen struggles to initiate and sustain meaningful conversations and you are interested in promoting these skills, reach out to us…I would welcome the opportunity to help! Or find a good Speech-Language Therapist to help. Be a good consumer and be certain she has a passion for pragmatic language and a commitment to making it real…transferable to your child’s real world. In my experience, talking about it and playing pragmatic language games yield little change in the real world. Rather, focused, engaging, and practical pragmatic language activities will give your ADHD child or teen the tools for a lifetime of conversation.
What do you plan to do this summer to keep your ADHD child building social and conversational skills?
Jane Reck is a speech-language therapist who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and Syracuse University summa cum laude. Jane has more than 25 years of clinical experience as a case coordinator and speech-language therapist on The Being Well Center’s multidisciplinary health care team providing treatment to clients of all ages. She has participated in the care of hundreds of patients with ADD/ADHD and has trained and supervised professionals from a variety of disciplines in how to use The Being Well System. She has helped lead the establishment and management of transdisciplinary health care programs in the United States and Central America.