Make a Great First Impression

6 expert tips for adults with ADD who want to make a good first impression. How to watch what you say and how you say it.

John had had it with judgmental people, so he found a way to screen them out: He would no longer shave, bathe regularly, or wear clean clothes. He thought that if people were interested in him despite his disheveled appearance – and his sometimes off-putting adult ADD behaviors – they were his kind of people. It turned out that John, one of my clients, was right. The handful of friends he made were definitely not the judgmental type.

Am I suggesting that you, too, thumb your nose at social norms? No. I just want to remind you that first impressions have an enormous effect on our personal and professional relationships. They dictate whether you get a job or a date or make a friend – and, as they say, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

Folks with AD/HD often have a hard time with first impressions; their hyperactivity and inattentiveness may be misinterpreted as a lack of respect for or interest in others.

If you get off on the wrong foot, acknowledge the difficulty and ask, “Can we begin again?”

Most people judge others in the first two minutes of a first encounter – some experts say the first three seconds. Consequently, it’s wise to do all you can to make a good first impression. You know the importance of a smile and a firm handshake, as well as of eye contact. (It’s been estimated that one’s appearance counts for more than 90 percent of the overall impression one makes, while the words one speaks count for less than 10 percent.)

Here’s what else you can do:
Choose your attire carefully

Try to figure out what other people will be wearing – and aim to match it. This might require some detective work. The day before a job interview, one of my clients stood outside the office building he was going to, checking out what the employees wore to work there. Most wore suits – so he did, too.

If you’re uncertain of what to wear to a social event, call ahead and ask.

Be on time

In most cases, that means being 10 to 15 minutes early. Keeping people waiting is a sure way to make a bad first impression.

Watch your speaking voice

Our style of speaking can affect others more than we think. People with the hyperactive form of ADD often talk too loudly and too rapidly. Those with the inattentive form tend to speak too little and too softly. Physical prompts, such as a vibrating watch (like the one available at, can remind you to slow down – or to speak up.

Be a good listener

Rein in your impulsivity or impatience, and let others finish their thoughts before speaking. If this is hard for you, press your tongue against the top of your mouth as you listen.

Then, reflect back what they said before speaking about yourself. Not sure what to say? It’s hard to go wrong with “tell me more.” Using the other person’s name a time or two will earn you brownie points.

Make sure you have something to say

Many people with ADD see small talk as a waste of time rather than the tension-breaker and relationship-builder it is. One way to make small talk easier is to keep up with current events.

Most news sites on the Internet carry the big stories in an easy-to-read format. If you’re to meet with parents of your child’s classmates, look over the notes about classroom activities that the teacher has sent home in your child’s backpack.

Be careful with humor

Since you don’t know the sensitivities of the people you are meeting, avoid jokes and funny comments until you know them better.

This article published by permission from ADDitude Magazine April/May 2006 issue of ADDitude.

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Communication Secrets for ADHD Spouses

Clear Up Confusion

Photo credit: holder from morguefile.comUse this simple, effective relationship advice to begin speaking the same language as your non-ADD partner and clear up conflicts in your ADHD marriage.

I want my husband to understand that I don’t do it on purpose. He thinks that I ‘forget’ to close the cabinets or ‘forget’ to put something away on purpose.” Ginny, a client in my group for adults with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD), was sharing her frustrations over living with a non-ADD husband. Her need for ADHD relationship advice is common.

Alan, who nodded in agreement, added, “I wish my wife understood how hard I’m trying. She just doesn’t get how much effort it takes for me to do things that come easily to her.” Those two comments opened the floodgates, spurring a lively discussion about the challenges of marriage and ADD.

ADHD Relationship Advice: He Says, She Says

A successful ADHD marriage depends on honesty. Below are some comments I’ve heard repeatedly from both my ADD clients and their non-ADD spouses. If they ring true to you, use them as relationship advice, or talking points, before your relationship hits a rough patch.

ADD Spouse

I wish you really understood ADD and its impact on my life.”
“I’m not lazy or stupid.”
I’m really sorry to have to put you through this.”
“It’s difficult for me to plan, organize, and pay attention to details. In fact, those tasks exhaust me!
“Be patient with me. I need support, not criticism.”

Non-ADD Spouse

“When you keep me waiting, or don’t follow through, I think you don’t value my time.”
“You need other strategies and support for managing your condition. I don’t want to be your only form of support.
Let me help you. I’m usually better on project management or time-sensitive tasks.”

When I met with some of my clients’ partners—many of whom don’t have ADD—they had their own frustrations. “Sometimes I think I have another child,” “Why can she focus on things she enjoys?” “If she can do it sometimes, why can’t she do it all the time?” were common remarks.

Although all married couples have to navigate challenges, communicate effectively, and work cooperatively, ADD places strain on a relationship. Many of my ADD clients have partners who are so highly organized that they are jokingly accused of having Attention Surplus Syndrome, or ASS. Over time, it seems, the “opposite” qualities that originally attracted the two to each other lose their appeal.

When a relationship hits a rough patch, I advise couples to focus on each other’s strengths, not their weaknesses. I tell them to think of themselves as a team.

Every winning team needs a variety of skill sets to make it work—players who can execute a detailed game plan in a timely manner, and those who inspire with their high energy and spontaneity. A football team comprising quarterbacks only won’t win on game day.

Play the Rating Game

Gauging a couple’s responsibilities and needs—both of which may have changed since you walked down the aisle—is a productive way to start. One strategy for doing this is describing—on a scale of 0-10—how important or exhausting a task is for each of you.

For example, instead of telling your partner it was hard to organize the holiday party, tell him, “It was a 10—or an 11—to put that party together.”

Couples are sometimes surprised by the results of this rating game. One couple found that having down time after work was low in the husband’s list of needs, while his wife rated getting help in the kitchen a 10. The result? The husband helped with dinner prep the second he got home from the office.

Ginny and Alan went home and discussed how much energy (once again, 0-10) they had to expend on tasks with their partner. Each was genuinely surprised at the effort required to do some tasks he or she had thought were effortless. They also discussed how important they considered each task. This gave Ginny and Alan a clear sense of what was important to each of them, as well as to their spouses.

Armed with this information, they renegotiated responsibilities. Ginny realized that her husband didn’t care about eating a gourmet dinner (it was a three, according to him) as much as having an uncluttered chair to sit on in the family room (a whopping nine).

Ginny and her husband didn’t diverge on everything. They both gave a 10 to one important area: wanting to be loved and appreciated for themselves.

Problem Peers

A worried parent says:

My 16-year-old son has been diagnosed with ADD. He has a difficult time making friends and maintaining them. Recently he has started being around negative peers that do drugs and have been arrested. Yesterday I found a gun hidden in his closet, I’m afraid for my son’s safety and future. He has been seeing a psychiatrist who prescribes medication but he needs counseling or a boarding school.

Michele Novotni answers:

First of all — remove the gun if you haven’t already done so and call your son’s psychiatrist for immediate help. The psychiatrist can make the determination as to whether or not your son is a danger to himself or others. Let the psychiatrist or a professional you trust direct you as to the appropriate steps to take for your son.

Unfortunately it is not uncommon for adolescents with ADD or other learning difficulties and social skills problems to become depressed. They sometimes can even become suicidal due to the pain of being socially rejected or excluded. They may seek out an undesirable peer group in which they find acceptance. You are very wise to be concerned about your son. It is important to get your son the help he needs immediately to better manage his ADD and to learn the social skills he needs to improve his ability to connect and relate to others. I want to leave you with hope because there are very effective treatments for both the ADD and for helping people learn social skills.

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.

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.

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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.

Playmates and Friends

DA in Alabama says:

I have a son with ADHD who is 9 years old. He prefers to play with girls instead of boys. He seems to fight with boys and act as a caretaker for girls. Is this another symptom of his condition?

Michele Novotni answers:

AD/HD does not in itself cause children to be drawn to interact with the opposite sex. However, it could be that your son has found more acceptance and nurturing with girls than he finds with boys. There are often gender differences in the way children react to differences with boys often turning to aggression and girls more often being more nurturing. This is not true in all cases. Perhaps he has just found people he likes who like him AND they happen to be girls. For many with AD/HD finding anyone who likes them is a wonderful gift!

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.

Conversational Skills in Children

A parent asks:

Is it normal for children with ADD to prefer a small group of friends because it is too difficult to interact in a large group because of the chaos and quick pace of activity?

Michele Novotni answers:

At times it can be very overwhelming for both children and adults with ADD to participate in a group situation. The number of distractions increases as the number of people increase. Many people with ADD have difficulty filtering out distractions even in a one-to-one setting. Also, transitions in conversation can move at a fast pace in group settings and many with ADD have difficulty keeping track of conversations. Another difficulty can be the need to wait longer for a turn to speak. Some suggestions for group situations:

  • Work on moving the conversation along by asking questions related to what someone was saying.
  • Rather than thinking about what you want to say in a large group, learn to just listen, relax and enjoy all the energy and chaos of a group.
  • Practice conversation skills in a very small group first (2-3 people) and gradually expand the size of the group.
  • If you do like to talk in a large group setting, be careful not to dominate the conversation.
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.

On The Move

A mother asks:

We will be moving to the states after two years of living abroad. My son, since age four, has been in a very small school setting. He will be 10 this summer and entering the fourth grade. How do I prepare him for the public school setting in his new school? How do I explain the resource class to him? How can I help him react positively to other kids in case some were to ridicule him? We have the option of a small private school, but I think it is time to move him into the real world to prepare him for middle school in two years (Does this make sense?)

Michele Novotni answers:

Transitions are difficult for people with ADD. I’m wondering if both the move to the States and a move to a large public school setting is the best timing.

I suggest that you talk with your child’s current teachers and seek their recommendation for the best placement and timing since they would know your child’s academic and social readiness best. Were they looking to move him into a regular class if you were not moving? If so why? If not, why not?

Regarding teasing, kids can be terribly cruel — especially to those who may be a little different. It is always helpful to work with your child in establishing five responses to someone who is teasing them in advance. Together you can role-play or practice responding to ridicule.

You can even make your practice sessions more fun by coming up with some outrageous responses so that it won’t seem so much like work. Perhaps you can even identify five responses to NEVER make when someone is teasing you. He could write down his favorite responses on an index card and review them each day. This way, an appropriate response should easily be at hand when/if needed.

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.

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