Social Skills

Leave Me Alone!


A woman asks:

“I’m a 48-year-old married woman and I have trouble being around large crowds. I would rather be alone, and there are times that I don’t answer the door if people—even my children—visit.”

Michele answers:

You say that you have a lot of trouble being around large crowds but I’m not sure if that is because of ADD-related difficulties such as inattention, hyperactivity or impulsivity or something else. If ADHD characteristics are in the way of your social relationships, then you could have unlocked a big piece of understanding yourself better. If you do struggle in those areas and that is what makes it difficult for you to socialize with others, I recommend an evaluation with a professional who specializes in diagnosis and treatment of ADHD.

However, you also said that you lack desire for even one-to-one contact with your spouse or children. Sometimes people with ADHD are so used up trying to cope with the stresses of everyday life that they need extra quiet/alone time and sometimes avoid social contacts. However, it could also be that you have something else going on.

Just because you have ADHD that doesn’t mean that you can’t also have something else (like depression, anxiety, etc.) going on and if you have something else, that doesn’t mean that you also can’t have ADHD. When you have more that one difficulty at the same time, we call that comorbidity. Professionals would not view your behavior as stupid or selfish as you fear, but rather as an indication that there is a problem.

I recommend that you seek out the help of a psychologist to help you understand your behavior whether ADHD related or not and to help you develop strategies to change. I wish you well in gaining a better understanding of yourself and overcoming the obstacles to connecting to the important people in your life!

How to Stop Defeatist Thinking

Five proven expert strategies for battling ADD-related defeatism and negative thinking.

Depression is common among people with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD). In fact, people with ADD are three times more likely than non-ADDers to be depressed. It’s easy to understand why; you’re unlikely to feel good about yourself if forgetfulness and disorganization cause you to feel less than competent at home or work.

But why does poor self-esteem continue to plague ADDers even after their ADHD has been treated? To answer that question, let’s go back to the mid-1960s, when University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman conducted pioneering research on a psychological condition now known as “learned helplessness.”

Seligman trained a group of dogs to associate a particular sound with an impending electrical shock. Initially, the dogs were restrained, so, even though they knew a shock was coming, there was no way to avoid it. (Thank goodness such cruelty is now out of vogue!) Later, even though their restraints had been removed, the dogs did nothing to avoid the shock. They had been convinced that it was unavoidable. In other words, they had learned to be helpless.

ADDers are not dogs, obviously. But many ADDers — particularly those whose diagnosis comes late in life — exhibit learned helplessness. They’ve spent so many years failing to live up to their potential, at work, at home, and in their personal relationships, that they assume they always will fail.

That was certainly true for my client Mike, who worked in sales. For years, he had been told that he was not working up to his potential. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t set priorities or keep up with paperwork, and he missed meetings. He was afraid he would lose his job. Even after beginning treatment for ADHD, he just knew that he would continue to fail.

Mike was experiencing learned helplessness. So I urged him to talk to a physician about antidepressant medication (often a good option for severely depressed people) and suggested a few strategies to help him cast off his chronic pessimism. Here they are:

Stop negative thinking.

Mistaken beliefs about yourself are major contributors to depression. Stop beating yourself up with thoughts like, “I’m a failure” or “Things will never change.” How do you do that?

Each time you think ill of yourself, try to  replace the negative thought with one or more positive thoughts. Sit down for a few minutes and take inventory of your strong points. Are you unusually creative? Are you a good storyteller? Can you make a yummy apple pie? Jot down everything you can think of on an index card, and carry it with you in your wallet or purse.

Choose friends carefully.

Spend more time with people who are supportive and encouraging. Do your best to avoid “toxic” people.

Get more exercise.

Physical activity fights depression by boosting levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Exercise for at least 15 minutes, three times a week (ideally, you’ll get 30
minutes of exercise, five days a week).

Seek the sunlight.

Spending 15 minutes in direct sunlight can have a big impact on your mood.

Don’t wait to celebrate.

Give yourself a pat on the back for any progress toward your goals. Invite a friend to dinner. Get a massage. Pick up a new DVD.

Mike is no longer depressed. His office is organized, and he is on time
for meetings. He no longer worries about getting fired; recently, he was
publicly recognized for his outstanding achievements at work. All this
came about because he had the courage to believe that success was possible.

Are you depressed? Be like Mike!

This article comes from the April/May 2007 issue of ADDitude magazine. To read this issue of ADDitude in full, purchase the back issue and SUBSCRIBE NOW to ensure you don’t miss a single issue.
Copyright © 1998 – 2007 New Hope Media LLC. All rights reserved. Your use of this site is governed by our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. ADDitude does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this web site is provided for educational purposes only. See additional information here.
New Hope Media, 39 W. 37th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10018

The Guy’s Guide to Deciphering a Date

When you’re driving it’s easy to know whether you’re supposed to go, proceed with caution or stop. Wouldn’t it be great if signs were that easy to see when it comes to women? If she’s interested, you get a green light. Not sure yet? Yellow. If it were a definite “no,” a red light would let you know loud and clear that it just isn’t going to happen.

Actually, women do send signals to let you know how they feel about you. You can learn to decipher any date by listening to both her words and her body language. Here, we color-code their communications for you:

Green Light

Verbal signals

  • Statements like, “I really enjoy spending time with you;” “Perhaps we can get together again;” “You are very sweet/ kind/thoughtful…” or “Here’s my phone number.”
  • Attempts to reschedule or develop an alternate plan if unable to get together.
  • Asks many questions about you.


  • Actively engages in eye contact along with open body language, smiles and perhaps even blushing.
  • Stays when you approach and might even move to be closer to you.
    Dresses well when she knows she will be seeing you.
  • Looks interested when you talk.
  • Laughs at your jokes.

Yellow Light

Verbal signals

  • Statements like “Let me check my schedule and I’ll get back to you.”
  • Some time frame given or the possibility of attempt to reschedule if unable to get together.
  • Asks a few questions about you.


  • Engages in eye contact, and smiles at times but gives mixed body language.
  • Stays when you approach.
  • Looks somewhat engaged in conversation with you.
  • Some special attention to appearance when she knows she will see you.
  • Seems upset when you make plans to go out with someone else.
  • Sometimes smiles at your jokes.

Red Light

Verbal signals

  • Statements like “I’ll get back to you,” or “perhaps another time;” “Let’s just be friends;” “I don’t want dating to get in the way of our relationship.”
  • No back up or alternate plans or time frames given if unable to get together.
  • Asks very few questions about you.


  • Avoids or has limited eye contact, few smiles and closed body position. Frequently checks her watch or the clock.
  • Seems to leave quickly when you approach.
  • No special attention to appearance if she knows she will see you.
  • Looks annoyed at your jokes.

Learning to read someone’s signals helps you minimize rejection and spend your energy on positive relationships. And don’t worry — if she seems to be blinking yellow, you can always go back to the old grade school standby and ask your friend to ask her friend if she likes you.

This article is published by permission from ADDitude Magazine All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited. Subscribe to ADDitude online or via toll-free phone 888-762-8475.

A Pushy Kid

LS in Arizona says:

When my 8-year-old ADHD son gets angry with classmates in an unstructured environment (playground), he will immediately push someone. What steps can I suggest as an alternative? (I have offered just walking away or putting his hands in his pockets and taking a deep breath.)

Michele Novotni answers:

Unstructured situations can be a challenge for many with AD/HD. Your suggestions for alternative behaviors sound great. In addition you may want to help him learn to internalize better control and be better able to go on “automatic pilot” when a difficult situation pops up in such an unstructured setting.

It may be helpful to write down what it is that he gets angry about each time on a chart to see if you can restructure or resolve any of the issues.

You may also want to practice in advance through role-play or visualization so that appropriate responses can become more automatic. When you do something repeatedly in practice it is more likely to occur when the situation pops up. Perhaps you could also use cue cards with him before playing to serve as a prompt to help him remember to control his anger.

He may also find an appropriate anger venting strategy helpful when he comes home such as punching a punching bag or pillow or hitting tennis balls.

Another strategy would be to help structure those unstructured situations as much as possible or at least minimize the amount of time he spends in those situations for now.

This article comes from ADDitude magazine.

Copyright © 1998 – 2007 New Hope Media LLC. All rights reserved. Your use of this site is governed by our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. ADDitude does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this web site is provided for educational purposes only. Additional information, click here

New Hope Media, 39 W. 37th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10018

Feeling Socially Weak? Build Your Strength

Women with ADD often feel socially disconnected and unable to ask for help or assert needs. Here’s what you can do to change this.

Although both sexes can and do struggle in the area of social relationships, a double standard often exists. Whereas a man may be excused for violating one of the many social rules, a woman is often not– even when violating the exact same social rule. After all, women are supposed to know more about appropriate social behaviors, right?

Wrong – especially when the woman in question is contending with social impairment sometimes caused by AD/HD. There are some common areas where many women with AD/HD feel their social skills are weak: feeling socially connected with friends, acquaintances and business associates, mastering the multi-tasking switch between work, home and family, being unable to ask for help or assert needs, and feeling isolated and depressed due to lack of positive social interaction. Why is this, and what can you do to build your social strength?


Social skills are all the things we should say and do (or not say and do) when we interact with other people. They aren’t officially taught in school, but it’s expected that we all know the mysterious social rules that govern our relationships. If you don’t, you often end up dismissed, rejected, and lonely without knowing exactly what it is that you did wrong, and no one usually tells you. Without feedback you rarely have a chance to improve your social behavior. What a vicious cycle!

What to do: Ask people you trust to help you understand what social skill areas you need to improve and be receptive to feedback. Others can help you with your blind spots.

At-home help: Identify your areas of strengths and areas that could benefit from improvement by using a social skills assessment such as The Novotni Social Skills Checklist (2000, Specialty Press).

Multi-tasking Responsibilities

Many men focus on only one task at a time. However, women often don’t have the luxury of a singular focus, especially in their assumed role as social coordinator and household manager.

With AD/HD, multi-tasking responsibilities of household management often creates multi-problems. Failure to accomplish these “normal” tasks may leave many women exhausted and with poor self-esteem. This emotional and physical energy drain leaves little energy to work on social relationships or complex social coordinating tasks. Many women just shut down socially to avoid embarrassment.

What to do: If disorganization is a barrier to your social life, consider seeking support from a coach to help you develop effective strategies, structure and support to remove or minimize this obstacle in your life.

At-home help: Forgive and forget the idea that women should “be it all” and “do it all” for their spouse and family, and delegate! Everyone can help with household tasks in some way – older children may enjoy making dinner or preparing school lunches, younger kids can fold laundry or pick things up off the floor; hubby can pick up groceries on his way home. Also, try home management systems like to help keep clutter in check.


It should be no surprise that women often have difficulty expressing their needs. Many women hope for change but are afraid to request changes or to take risks. This often leaves a void in social relationships and the ability to connect with others.

What to do: Consider taking a class in assertiveness training. Night schools or counseling centers offer such classes to help improve your ability to state your wishes and needs more clearly and effectively.

At-home help: Start small if you’re shy about asking for what you want, and build up to bigger requests. Ask your husband for a shoulder rub. Invite a friend for lunch at your favorite restaurant. Take control of the family remote. Taking the initiative helps control anxiety about the outcome of a situation.


Women are usually more aware of the social connections of others around them, and therefore more aware of their isolation or failure to live up to the social expectations. This can often lead to loneliness and sometimes even depression.

What to do: If identification and expression of feelings are causing you difficulties interacting with others, you are struggling in the areas of self-esteem or depression. Consider the possible benefits of counseling to help improve your social life.

At home help: Log on to the world wide web and sign up for one of the hundreds of forums, chat and support groups available for women coping with ADD, and realize that you’re not alone. Try ADDmirable Women, a YahooGroup on line or the online community at Live support groups for adults are also available in most metropolitan areas through ADDA or CHADD . Check online for listings.

You can learn to interact with others in a way that enhances your social life. There are rules, which once identified can be learned, and even traits you can develop which increase your “likability” factor. I encourage you to learn more about social skills and begin to nurture the relationships that can bring that sense of connection to your life.

This article is published by permission from ADDitude Magazine ©2004. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited. Subscribe to ADDitude online or via toll-free phone 888-762-8475.

Son Acts Withdrawn

CP in Alabama says:

My 10 year-old son is very withdrawn and acts depressed in social situations. When an adult speaks to him or asks his name he just mumbles and won’t look them in the face. His Dad and I have told him how this embarrasses us and have practiced social skills with him. He seems so sad at times and we want to help him. Any suggestions?

Michele Novotni answers:

Many people with AD/HD also struggle with depression. AD/HD wears people out and can sometimes take on toll on one’s self esteem. This combination often can lead to depression, which can make many reluctant to engage in social interactions.

I recommend having your son evaluated by a psychologist or psychiatrist for depression. It will be important to understand the reasons for his sadness and withdrawn behavior before effective social strategies can be developed to help him. Given your description of his behavior it does not appear to be a skill deficit problem.

As you anticipated, it is best to avoid putting pressure on him by emphasizing how his behavior embarrasses you. It is important to realize that this is not a personal reflection on you or your competence as a parent. It sounds like he needs love and acceptance as you all work through whatever emotional issues he may be feeling. I wish you well.

This article is published by permission from ADDitude Magazine ©2004. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited. Subscribe to ADDitude online or via toll-free phone 888-762-8475.

My Son Thinks He’s Gay

A mother asks:

My 16-year-old son is severely lacking social skills. He has no friends, makes inappropriate, embarrassing comments and has no athletic interests. He has been chatting online to a teenager in the UK. (I hope he’s a teenager, that is.) The problem is that now my son thinks that he is gay like the UK teen. Should I let him continue this interchange or cut it off?

Michele Novotni answers:

Rather than emphasizing whether or not to try to cut off his interchange, an important, longer term question would be, “How can I help him improve his social skills.” Social competence is one of the primary determinants of adult success.

Social competence is one of the primary determinants of adult success.

Many people with poor social skills find the Internet a great source of social interaction because it provides access to a wide range of people and you have the ability to take your time to formulate responses. Some people also find comfort in the acceptance they find on the net.

I recommend that you try to identify the social skills that he is lacking and work with him on gaining the needed skills or obtain the help of a psychologist or coach to help him improve his social skills. He may also benefit from the help of a psychologist in sorting out his social difficulties and his questions regarding his sexual orientation.

By improving his social skills, he would be able to open a wider range of options for friends and he may not see homosexuality as his only form of social connection. This strategy would hopefully provide a long-term solution to the problem.