ADHD Communication Problems
ADHD Communication Problems By Robert Wilford, PhD
If you know someone who has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), you’ve probably experienced a particular conversation oddity: they sometimes start saying words in the middle of a thought, instead of at the beginning. This leads to disjointed and unexpected points in a conversation. What’s important to realize is that they are not crazy or delusional — their mind is actually racing, and sometimes their spoken words don’t keep up with the thoughts in their head.
So, in practice, they are thinking of a thought, and the sentence is started in their head, but only partway through do audible words actually reflect what they’re thinking. Making it appear as though they’re talking in the middle of a sentence. As disconcerting as this is, it’s merely a common result of an ADHD symptom called “impulsivity.”
Impulsivity is a condition in which ADHD individuals cannot hold a thought in their head without speaking it aloud. For example, if an ADHD mother was in a conversation with another mother, and she suddenly realized that she needed to do laundry that day, she might blurt out, “Do the laundry!” In this instance, she might have already thought, “I need to” before finishing the sentence out loud. This is merely an example, but it demonstrates how those with ADHD can have difficulty holding their thoughts to themselves. The question is, what are possible ways to keep this problem in check? First of all, anyone with ADHD must realize that this is not an easy problem to solve. Because of the condition itself, your natural inclination may well be to engage in impulsivity and let your mind wander. Aside from medications, it is next to impossible to change how your mind is thinking, but there are some strategies which can help the individual carry on a conversation without outbursts or peculiarities. However, instead of looking at these as some sort of cure, think of them more as a way of “tricking” yourself into being a better conversationalist. Or, if you prefer, look at them as a “game” you can play — and win — if you follow the rules.
One strategy to try is to count to five or 10 immediately following the end of every sentence another person speaks. This forces you to wait for the other person to finish before saying what you want to say, and it looks like you are not interrupting or blurting things out. This doesn’t mean that your mind is not full of thoughts, but you are better able to control when and how you express them. You can give the appearance of slowing down when you have a conversation.
If the ADHD individual is a child, there is another “game” to play which teaches conversation skills. Back in elementary school, you might remember the teacher saying, “Raise your hand” or “Give me five,” or perhaps using a specific object that represented a student’s turn to speak. For your child, designate an object as a “talk rock” or “talk toy” — this means that only the person holding the object is allowed to talk. Then, pass the object back and forth to demonstrate the proper give-and-take nature of a healthy conversation.
Sometimes, the reason ADHD individuals blurt things out is because they are afraid of forgetting an important thought. Since memory is one issue of ADHD, this is a valid concern, but it is still a poor excuse for constantly interrupting others. To remedy this, the individual should have a notebook or small computing device handy at all times to record thoughts. This divert the interruptions and puts them into an acceptable place: instead of interrupting someone’s sentence, they can simply write down their thought, kind of like they’re in a lecture.
Another trick to keep in mind if you are apt to finish other people’s sentences, is to thinking you know where their train of thought is headed. Wait until they have clearly finished a sentence, and then say some kind of affirmative statement like “okay,” “mm-hmm,” “right,” “I see,” or anything that serves as a comfortable pause. Then, take a breath. So, in a conversation, as soon as the other person is done speaking a sentence, you would say something like, “Okay [breath],” and then give your response. In this way, you are contributing a comfortable flow to the conversation. Other communication problems might include changing the subject or not talking. Both of these occur when the ADHD individual’s mind is wandering, often about thoughts, feelings, and worries completely unrelated to the current topic. In these situations, it often helps to catch yourself when your mind is off on a different subject, and tell yourself, “Be here now.” Over time, you may be better able to pay attention even when your natural inclination is to get distracted.
These are some of the most common communication problems individuals with ADHD face every day. Sometimes, medications like Adderall or Ritalin can help with issues such as hyperactivity, inattention, or impulsivity, but even so, the aforementioned strategies will take you the rest of the way. Hopefully, by adopting them, you will be ready to have pleasant, comfortable conversations.