ADHD and Communication

The ability to communicate effectively is integral to the maintenance of long-term relationships. However, communication can be inherently difficult. This should come as no surprise, given we not only tend to have different communication styles—but we also tend to ascribe idiosyncratic meanings to our words. For instance, what does the term “good” mean in the context of the statement, “I had a good day?” The meaning depends upon the individual making the statement, and clarity depends upon us being able to contextualize what they say. That is, we have to ask questions, so as to get to the bottom of things.

If we have ADHD, or we are in a relationship with some who has ADHD, then the inherent difficulties with communication can be exacerbated. For instance, someone with ADHD might struggle with forgetfulness or inattentiveness. These characteristics can manifest in the way the person communicates with others. In the course of listening to us speak, for instance, the person with ADHD might have an attentional shift—being drawn away from our words, which results in missing out on key pieces of information. Or perhaps they initially received the information, but weren’t able to recall it. Then, when they respond, it can seem like they haven’t heard us, leaving us to assume that they weren’t listening, and perhaps didn’t even care about what we were saying. If that’s the implicit message we internalize, then it can negatively affect our future interactions with the person. Maybe we’ll choose to minimize our interactions with them, for instance?

What to do?

As the person speaking to someone with ADHD, one thing we can do is to make sure to keep the communication in context, accounting for the characteristics described in the previous paragraph. For instance, when we feel we are being neglected, or not listened to, we can remind ourselves, “Maybe they’re unable to recall what I said?” This may lead to the realization that we’re saying too much at once and perhaps contributing to the problem. If that’s the case, we can change our own behaviors to help the situation. As the person with ADHD, we can attempt to find ways to be more attentive during conversations. Perhaps choosing a specific place and time to talk would be conducive to attentiveness, because we could exercise more control over the environment. For instance, we could choose a place with less distractions, or a time when we our minds are not overwhelmed with one hundred other things to do.

The important thing to remember is that communication is a two way street. If we are committed to the betterment of our relationships, then we need to be willing to make whatever adjustments we can to help facilitate more effective communication. Better communication is a protective factor for the health of the relationship, increasing the probability of greater intimacy with the other person. We’ll never be perfect, because communication is too complex and varied. However, through increased knowledge of communication patterns, we can better insure productive exchanges, even if a person has ADHD.