Building bridges and addressing problematic ADHD social behaviors

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Addressing problematic ADHD social behaviors via coaching

Thanks to Edge Coach, Dona Witten, PhD, ACC,  for contributing this post on coaching the whole person.

Interrupting Cow

Students come to the EDGE Foundation generally because they are struggling to get through college or on academic probation. Our first task as coaches is always to help them develop the organizational skills that will help them to remember to get to class, get a term paper written, and in short, get passing grades.

But while helping a young person keep their current job as student is critical, as coaches we also have a responsibility to help them develop the skills they will need for their future jobs in whatever profession they choose. Many, if not most of those skills are social rather than cognitive. Working in teams, working with customers, managers and staff, all of these typical work activities require social skills that many ADHD individuals do not come by easily.

Limitations in executive functioning often mean poor emotional regulation and limited ability to detect social cues that are essential for regulating and modifying behavior to fit the environment. A tendency to turn conversations into speeches, to step on other peoples words, and to miss or misinterpret the social cues all around them are typical ADHD social behaviors. These behaviors often result in the ADHD person having few friends and negative experiences being with other people in social settings. By the time an ADHD individual gets to college they are carrying not only the challenges of their ADHD but also the challenges of poor social skills and a negative psychological mindset built over years of failure and rejection.

The coaching laboratory

As a coach, I pay a great deal of attention not only to what my young clients are saying about their academic efforts but equally how they are saying it. I pay attention to how long they speak without pause, how they answer emails and texts and how much they interact with me as a person. As we progress in the coaching relationship I encourage my young clients to use the coaching call as a laboratory to experiment with improved communication techniques.

As an example, we will pick a skill such as not interrupting each other while we are speaking. Then, during the coaching call I will gently call out the times when my young client interrupts. Between coaching calls I will encourage the young client to practice this skill in social settings. In the case of not interrupting others I might have her put a finger on her lips during a conversation so that she can develop mindfulness of this skill. I might also have her do something like take a deep mindful breath before she says something. All of these activities are designed to break through a deeply ingrained and unconscious habit and replace it with a more socially acceptable behavior.

Practicing new social behaviors with your coach

Over time, the coaching calls continue to be an opportunity to practice new social behaviors. The benefit for the young client is that they have the opportunity of having a positive social experience and a model for other successful social experiences. Success in the coaching call leads to confidence and success in social settings. The benefit for me as a coach is the opportunity to have a truly delightful conversation with an enormously bright and charming young adult as a whole person. Indeed, this is the reward that every ADHD coach looks for in their relationship with their client.

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