Good attention is critical for efficient communication. In order to understand a message–to break it down and to process the elements–we must first pay attention to it. Similarly, to generate a response, we must focus on our own thoughts, translate them into words and sentences, organize them into a coherent message, and reflect on their appropriateness.
Attentional weaknesses, therefore, place the individual with ADD at high risk for poor communication skills.
The requirements for effective communication are at odds with the characteristics of ADD. Poor focus, distractibility, and short attention span lead the person with ADD to miss, get only part of, or totally misinterpret messages. The result is that he is frequently in a position where he must ask for repetition, request clarification, fake his understanding, or present himself as “out in left field.” Further, impulsivity, distractibility, and poor monitoring lead the person with ADD to produce messages that are disorganized, incomplete, and characterized by on-going revision.
Throughout the process of communicating, we must forever monitor our language and our behavior in order to be certain that we adhere to the unstated rules of communication such as being polite and using appropriate body language. This represents one of the biggest challenges for the person with ADD as these rules are rarely, if ever, explicitly taught.
Generally, we learn communication rules by paying attention!
We watch the people around us follow the rules and see the subtle signals we get when we break the rules. These critical rules include the following:
- Take turns while you talk.
- Do not monopolize the conversation.
- Look at the person to whom you are listening or talking.
- Talk on the topic.
- Talk politely to adults.
- Do not interrupt.
- When changing the topic, introduce the change.
- Let the person who is talking know that you are listening, that you understand, and that you are interested.
- Carry your share of the conversation.
Because he has failed to learn the rules of the game, a person with ADD is frequently behind the eight ball even before the conversation begins!
For a person with ADD who has learned the rules, the challenge is no less–following the rules of communication, even when they are known, requires constant and efficient impulse control, filtering, and monitoring.
Successful treatment of ADD includes addressing all areas of an individual’s life, including communication. Dr. Liden has been helping patients overcome the challenges of ADD through conscientious medication and creative approaches to life coaching for the past 30 years. A more in-depth exploration of ADD/ADHD can be found in Dr. Liden’s best-selling book, Pay Attention!