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ADHD Adults

ADD and Eye Contact... Is it a big deal???

Hi, this is a re-post from another forum, but I wanted to see if I could get a few more opinions. First, I want to add a general question, especially as it applies to ADDers of any age. I’ve done a lot of research online for “ADD and eye-contact”... and almost every hit classifies a lack of eye contact as a more-or-less universally “bad” thing… almost like people who are left-handed used to be stigmatized. I’ll also preface the pasted-in message by saying that, when I’m processing new information, or when I’m one-on-one with my supervisor, eye contact is a *liability* for me. My best means of concentration, focus, and understanding (also being able to respond appropriately) happen when I’m NOT making eye contact, but only when I focus on some inanimate object. It’s not meant as a sign of disrespect, I’m not shy, and I figure it’s my right (under ADA, etc) to be “accommodated” for this little quirk of mine. And I repeat…eye contact equals “sensory overload” when I’m processing new info, instructions, or in brainstorming sessions, etc. Why does every site out there label “no eye contact” as something that must be corrected???” If it works for me, it works for me. I’m also certain this is a product of my ADD, so shouldn’t I be able to ask for a “reasonable accommodation to “NOT maintain regular eye contact if I find it distracting”? Should my supervisor be in a position to force me to engage in a behavior that makes me LESS successful at my job? FYI, I have no customer-facing job functions, and if I did, I would and could make appropriate eye contact… because it’s not likely going to also include a lot of deep thought or concentration.

Okay, I’m deleting the rest of my original message… I’ve just re-asked what I’d like a response to. Thank you in advance for your thoughts.


My opinion: eye contact is an important visual cue. People use it to judge whether someone is listening - or whether they are losing their audience. When someone is looking at me, I assume I am getting my point across and that I have my audience’s attention. When their eyes start to wander, I use that to adjust the pace, or simply finish up - that’s how I can tell I’ve talked too long. I combine it with expression to see if my audience is confused, disagrees with me or is in agreement. If someone is not looking at me it feels like they feel like they have better things to do than to listen to me but don’t have the decency to tell me this is not a good time to talk. I take it as rude. 

Given that… I too get distracted when I have eye contact overload. If I am trying to absorb difficult material- especially when my working memory is not where I want it to be - it’s almost like I can’t process what is being said. This is only occasionally, so I only have a taste of what you describe, but here goes…when I sense I can’t look someone in the eye and focus - I tell them,  I say, I realize this is something I need to think about to process. I want to understand what you are saying, would you mind starting over (I DON’T let them get to far before I do this - to be fair) so I can really focus on what you are saying? Then I close my eyes and do some sort of thinking posture - put my hand to my chin. I might make a little motion like I’m checking off their points - or I nod at the end of each point. I am giving them some visual cues so they know they still have me.  When they pause. I open my eyes at look right at them to signify, “Yeah, I got that”. You are not required to hold eye contact the whole time -that makes people uncomfortable too.

I know someone who cannot look at the speaker during work discussions. When he goes to a meeting, he tells the others that he is going to pull out his doodle pad because he has to be drawing in order to think, He tells them that he will be paying attention, but for a while it will not look like it. When the pause comes and he needs to talk or respond, he puts the pen down and looks at the others.

Non-verbal communication really dominates communication, and eye contact is critical to most people and a very basic thing they depend on.  People make all sorts of judgements about whether someone is listening, interested or lying. I recommend you really try to find a way to communicate your need to avoid overload while still giving people the cues they need to feel heard and respected.  It doesn’t matter that you are not meeting the “public” anyone you have contact with wants to feel like communication is successful.  Your supervisor is feeling a lack of respect, I think, so addressing that is important.  Probably asking for an “accommodation” to get you out of looking at your boss is going to sound demanding if your boss interprets someone not looking at them as trying to be superior - not worth looking at. If you can accommodate the boss’ need for knowing he or she is heard in some other way by really demonstrating it, you might not be forced to increase the eye contact.

BTW, nobody gives me accommodation when I talk too much, but I can’t help that easily either smile

Posted by Juggler on Oct 29, 2013 at 3:51am

Oh, Juggler!  You really understand this! 

I had the worst time with supervisors and managers over the years because they did not think that I was paying attention to them unless I was looking directly at them.

I do look at them when the discussion begins, but I also had to take notes in order to complete whatever tasks were being given to me.  I finally had to ask for a meeting with them.  The work that I did was complex and the task assignments came from five different offices.  Everyone wanted their tasks done first, but it became necessary for me to point out to them that I had two hands, one brain, and no assistant, so they were going to have to deal with me not “paying attention” while I took notes.  It worked, but it seemed as though I had to force them to become aware of the situaiton and point to the fact that there were limits to what one person, with or without ADD/ADHD, could do when the limits were time and manpower.

thankfully, I am retured now, but the same problem arises from time-to-time with the volunteer work that I do. 

Some of the “quirks” that come with ADD/ADHD can be so vexing at times…

Posted by Dianne in the Desert on Oct 29, 2013 at 4:42am

Eye contact is very important. If I am talking and don’t receive eye contact, I then believe the person is not listening to me period. Plus it’s rude.

Posted by Pink ginger on Oct 29, 2013 at 6:34pm

Struggling to process information and keep eye contact is definitely something I battle with too. All the same though people have this generally accepted perspective that looking someone in the eyes is very important for listening, interpreting and respecting the person who are in conversation with. It is unfair of us as ADDer’s to expect someone else to just read our minds and understand this difficulty.

“Seek first to understand, then be understood.” If you feel you have a boss(es) who are somewhat understanding, arrange a time to speak to them and ask them politely why they feel eye contact is important to them.. hear what they say and respect that they too will have some emotional reaction and wanting to be heard and understood. Then you can gentley explain that in fact by not making eye contact you are actually showing them more respect and listening better than you can whilst looking at them. Maybe even give them an example of a time when you used eye contact and missed some important detail, and then compare to an example where you didn’t use eye contact and you got all the details spot on.

I myself find eye contact crucial to communication, but I can not communicate using eye contact if I have any other task I must do, can’t even talk to someone and make a cup of coffee at the same time. I feel myself to be rude if not making eye contact and get very upset by it. So I learnt 2 little tricks.

1: Someone starts a conversation with me.. I stop what I am doing, I push whatever it is aside, and I face my body towards them, or in a way that blocks out other sounds or movements etc. that might distract me and I look them directly in the eyes. This screams out I am listening and respecting attentively. Any boss will quickly learn that he/she must choose between me conversing with them, or me doing work for them. Taking notes can be difficult, so try using the voice recorder on your phone, ensuring the conversation doesn’t start until you’ve hit record. - Your boss my ask why and so you explain that you want to listen attentively and also make sure you get all the information you need, recording the convo is way of ensuring this, because you just can’t write and listen at the same time.

Secondly, I pretend to be looking someone in the eye but really I’m focusing on one tiny point in their eye as if it were an inanimate object. I generally tilt my head away from distracting sounds which is a non verbal cue that I am listening as well as helping me to focus better. Non verbal cues are picked up even by people who don’t know they are there, and if you know that they are getting uncomfortable with the lack of one, google the body language and teach yourself to show other verbal cues which will bring comfort to that person, that you are actually giving them the attention(or respect, or whatever) that they want.

Remember human interaction is a 2 way street and with our without the difficulties of ADHD we all are emotional and react emotionally and even though others don’t understand we can’t expect anyone else to be understanding and accomodating of us if we don’t take the first step.

Hope this helps, if you or anyone tries the above techniques please come back and let us know how effective you found them and or any other idea’s you have:)

Posted by Courts1 on Oct 30, 2013 at 4:07pm

I found that making a little eye contact really puts people at ease.  So far I only do that much, a little. 

It’s easier to focus on what they are saying if I’m not looking at them. 

I’m really good at hearing what people are really thinking, like a blind person can, almost. 

Society decides these things, which is really annoying.  Please go for world domination and change everyone… Any random person would be preferable to the current leadership. 

I’ll support the ADD party.

Posted by allovertheplace on Oct 31, 2013 at 5:13am

I focus more on the movement of someone’s lips and a lot of it has to do with my hearing difficulties.  However, I have found the whole lack of eye contact to be an issue because I think society views the lack of eye contact as “wierd.”  I have always been told that I should have “good eye contact” with others when speaking, but I beg to differ within reason.  Now, I would definitely give eye contact during an interview because that will look bad on many levels.  Giving good eye contact shows confidence in yourself.  Unfortunately, when it comes to job interviews, the interviewer looks for decent eye contact.  Also, when giving speeches, you must have good eye contact.  It is what it is.

Posted by tinalunior83 on Nov 01, 2013 at 7:35am

There are many different cultures where eye contact is considered impolite and sometimes even hostile.

Years ago I remember learning in college that in African-American and Native American cultures, eye contact can be considered a social no-no. I’ve witnessed examples of this in people from those and other cultures in North America. It can probably depend on personal style too.

I lived in NYC for a few years and caught a cab driven by a man from the Middle East. He interpreted my eye contact as an invitation to date. It took a few interactions to clear that up!

I lived in the province of Quebec for a few years, and as a foreign student (from all the way across the border), I was given a manual that other foreign students received that was kind of a crash course on North American culture. Eye contact was one of the points covered. It was kind of an illuminating little tract, actually, and showed me how non-universal so much of my culture is.

If people form other parts of the globe can interpret me catching their eye in the wrong way, I don’t see why it can’s happen with people who (supposedly) share my culture too.

I’m not sure how this little meditation (or soliloquy) is helpful to you, but that’s what your post made me think of. If I worked with you - if I was your boss, and you were able to explain to me that it wasn’t part of your culture to establish eye contact, and that like other cultures it has the effect of shutting you down, I would hope that I could be open minded enough to accept it, and maybe even find it interesting, intriguing and special in a good way. I would hope that I would then start to notice the ways in which you excel and start to appreciate how all sorts of people do great work and get there in very different ways.

This black sheep says, being self aware is more than half the battle. Here’s an idea: pretend you’re an actor! Pretend you’re playing the part of someone who uses eye contact to comfort others.

All the best. thanks for the post!

Posted by Rosemary on Nov 02, 2013 at 11:35am

Yes, Rosemary, you are right.  My father is from the Philippines, so I am very familiar with eye-contact being impolite.  In most Asian cultures, if not all, the young don’t look the elderly in the eyes.  It is very disrespectful.

Honestly, sometimes I feel like I fit better in the Filipino culture because they are loud in a happy way, love to have a good time often, yet are very respectful and quiet around their elders.  They are “seen, but not heard.” 

Anyway, it is unfortunate that to a lot of western cultures, especially here in the US, not giving proper eye-contact is frowned upon.  I usually explain that my loudness and lack of eye-contact has to do with my hearing difficulties and they usually get it.  Granted, my ADD/ADHD is a secondary factor, but I leave that part out since not everyone gets what it all means and some believe in the myth that we are just lazy and stupid and that ADD/ADHD does not exist.  My parents always told me to mention it in conversations.  Unfortunately, I was too embarrassed to say anything and all it got me was many years of strangers thinking something was wrong with me to even questioning whether I was “mentally retarded.”  I hate using those words,  but it is the correct terminoligy that people have used inappropriately.  It took me until my 20s to realize that people thinking that of me was more embarrassing then them knowing about the hearing difficulties.  Plus,  they were and still are able to put the pieces together.  Unfortunately, I can remember parents not allowing their children to play with me after learning this from my mother and other kids just ran away in laughter.  It was a losing battle back then.  Now, at the age of 30, times have changed and people have a better understanding.  As for the ADD/ADHD, the knowledge is out there, but convincing the un-educated that it is real and not a myth.. that’s a tough one!

Posted by tinalunior83 on Nov 03, 2013 at 5:54am

With all the recent talk about eye contact and it’s importance on ADDconnect, I decided to see if I could find more information about it as it relates to ADHD. has a very interesting article on Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD) that discusses how eye contact can actually disrupt focus. This is a very good read for all of you that find you focus better on a conversation when NOT looking the other person in the eye.

ADDconnect Moderator & Mom to Tween Boy with ADHD and LDs

Posted by adhdmomma on Nov 04, 2013 at 6:54pm

I personally have a very hard time looking at people in the eyes. I lip read a lot and concentrate better by looking at lips. ADHD has been a great blessing in my life with the ability to process things faster than normal people but in social settings people think I am not listening or being rude and not paying attention etc.

I must point out that for a ADHD adult it is one of the most difficult things to do for someone like us. Almost impossible yet we are discriminated in so many ways. People wouldnt say “oh behave its only diabetes” yet they say it to us in a derogatory way.

I wish government and agencies would start campaigns that raise awareness to this condition of ours which may help many of us in society to be accepted one day?

Posted by simph1 on Nov 05, 2013 at 6:34am


I’ve copied part of your post below so I can reply to it. My bits begin with three asterisks***....  grin

“Non-verbal communication really dominates communication, and eye contact is critical to most people and a very basic thing they depend on.  People make all sorts of judgements about whether someone is listening, interested or lying.”

*** Oh yeah, I’m very aware of this. I’m an adult learning professional with 25 years in the business and several international awards for excellence/best practices. That’s why… (next topic)

” I recommend you really try to find a way to communicate your need to avoid overload while still giving people the cues they need to feel heard and respected.”

*** The very first time she told…no.. “demanded” that I look her in the eyes, these were my very words: “Oh, I actually didn’t realize that I wasn’t. My ADD [she already knew I had it] makes it difficult for me to process new information and instructions while staring someone in the face, so my eyes typically drift toward some inanimate object. THIS IS NOT INTENDED as any disrespect to you or what you have to share, but I simply absorb more information when I’m not looking somebody else in the eyes.”

*** You think I’d get even an ounce of respect for what is indeed a bona fide disability? Not a chance! I was chastised, made fun of, and THEN RE-demanded to make eye contact. So in essence, I made her aware of a disability, I told her how the behavior she was insisting on would actually DEGRADE my ability to do my job, and asked if she would respect that. I asked for a very legitimate “reasonable accommodation,” and I did so very thoroughly and respectfully. BTW, this is only one disability that she completely disregarded, for which she mimicked and made fun of me, and which she deliberately used to throw my concentration off. No concentration, work quotas suffer. Work quotas suffer, you’re fired. But I’ve got a lawyer and I’m fighting back.

”  It doesn’t matter that you are not meeting the “public” anyone you have contact with wants to feel like communication is successful. “

***That was explanatory for the purposes of my post; I didn’t want readers thinking that my lack of eye contact was hurting the organization by causing external customers to feel ignored… but then again, in those lightweight situations, eye contact isn’t an issue for me.

” Your supervisor is feeling a lack of respect, I think, so addressing that is important. “

***As I explained, I told her up-front that I had no intention to disrespect her. The only disrespect was from her toward me.

” Probably asking for an “accommodation” to get you out of looking at your boss is going to sound demanding if your boss interprets someone not looking at them as trying to be superior - not worth looking at. If you can accommodate the boss’ need for knowing he or she is heard in some other way by really demonstrating it, you might not be forced to increase the eye contact. “

*** I mean no disrespect to you, Juggler, but as an adult with multiple disabilities (yet still a highly qualified worker if just a few minor accomodations are granted), then that’s my RIGHT by LAW. Is is prudent? Is it going to win me any awards? No.. however, if I’m being prevented from being sucessful at my job because my boss discriminates and harrasses me over my various disabilities (including ADD), then I should never be put at the losing end of that stick. I can’t remember if I included it in my original post, but I was the victim (by this same supervisor) of some very, very serious “workplace bullying,” which just so happened to take aim at each of my disabilities. I was denied the right to do certain duties my peers did (even though I was more qualified than them to do so), and I was written up for violations that she had JUST WRITTEN and hadn’t disseminated… but only me. She made the fact that she was MAKING my life a living hell that it caused all my co-workers and friends there to abandon/isolate me. My anxiety was through the roof, my ADD was so stirred up that I couldn’t concentrate on my job, and my depression/anxiety made me suicidal, gave me PTSD, and took me to places so dark that I can’t even believe it. Finally, she trumped up some thoroughly fictional charges and had me terminated, which is easy to do to a probationary employee working for the federal government. YES, this was the very federal agency which was established to care for me and my fellow veterans, not abuse us.

Sorry to get so passionate, but it’s hard to discuss the topic without getting a little manic (and I’m not even bi-polar)  grin

But it doesn’t matter… When somebody tries to FORCE me to be LESS productive… just to get off on my pain… I will demand the appropriate accommodation. Anyone here that tells you differently is purely ignorant. Why? What if you have narcolepsy and try to hide it from your employer? That’s not going to work very well, is it? You get caught sleeping at your desk enough times, it’s pink-slip time. BUT.. if you’ve received a formal accomodation for that condition (and can still meet the demands of your job), they have to give you room to be who and what you are. I’ve seen people on here not to tell that they’re ADD/ADHD… how foolish! The symptoms are going to manifest themselves in your work at some point, and again, if nobody knows why it’s happening (and you’ve not been granted an accommodation), you’re screwed!  The gods know I hate being who I am, and dealing with the things I do, but I’ve got five college degrees, I served in the military for 20 years, and I’ve held down two other high-paying jobs since the military, both of them vastly improved by my knowledge of adult education.  Then I come to some po-dunk entry level job with the government and I’m run out on a rail… just because?  Let me tell you this… my supervisor had access to my records, and she knew what my disabilities were before I was even in a position to tell her. I was singled out, immediately upon completing training. I had done nothing to warrant their attention… but to be disabled.  I just refuse to let those kinds of small-minded people prevail. Not gonna happen.  And Juggles… no bad feelings… I just got on a rant. You didn’t know everything I’d been through. But I’ll tell you ALL something you should do, especially if you’re being harassed or discriminated against in the workplace due to your disability(ies). Check out some of the sites and the youtube vids on “WORKPLACE BULLYING” and then tell me if you think these people should be able to get away with the things they do to us? The psychological AND physical harm it causes people is staggering. Don’t let it happen to you, please.


Posted by Enterprizer on Nov 05, 2013 at 10:49am

Pink ginger.

Eye contact is, in our country, more of “cultural” expectation. It’s not innately *anything*, including “rude,” especially if you explain why it causes you difficulty to the person you’re not making eye contact with.

Think about it. Making such a wide-sweeping, hard and fast statement like this is taking a very narrow approach to the needs of those with psychiatric conditions like ADD. Stating that it’s always “rude” not to make eye contact… it’s like all those other taboos and bugaboos around the world, such as whether it’s rude to eat or shake hands with your left hand in some areas, whether or not it’s polite to tip your waitress in Iceland, or when a young country singer wannabe on American Idol, after being rejected, walked away, saying “Be careful!”  There was a virtual manhunt for this poor kid, who was only using a regionally acceptable phrase for saying goodbye. I know this because my grandad from the hills of Kentucky said this all the time, but dumba$$ Simon C. thought the kid was threatening him.

That’s kind of how I view your statement… too rigid, no room for exceptions, interpretations, or actual physical/mental needs.

We’re all individuals, and, unfortunately for employers, making accommodations for the disabled to help improve their chances of success on the job is not a matter of “rude,”—it’s a matter of LAW, and one that our employers are usually required to accommodate. Even the smallest employers can accommodate something as ultimately meaningless as “mandatory eye-contact.”

In any case, I would advise doing a Google search on “eye contact in different cultures” and see how differently this topic is viewed around the world. Okay, I’ll make it easier… here’s a link to a short but informative article on the matter:

Pink G: Sub-note… my last version of this post was written when I was tired and cranky, and I included a few lines that were less than kind. My sincere apologies. I’ve tweaked the wording to remove my smart-alecky words to you.

Posted by Enterprizer on Nov 05, 2013 at 10:57am

Courts 1

“You said: “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” If you feel you have a boss(es) who are somewhat understanding, arrange a time to speak to them and ask them politely why they feel eye contact is important to them..”

****That was the problem—my boss was ANYTHING but understanding—somewhat or otherwise. She was the most cruel, heartless, petty, bitter individual I’ve ever known in my 50-something years, and that’s saying a lot!

It sounds like a fair number of you “get it”...  we ADDers have a problem. Some more than others.

Me? I can do eye contact! With family, friends, co-workers, during interviews (probably because I’m doing most of the talking, and it’s about something I’m an expert at). Making intimate eye contact with that someone special… not a problem!

The problem is when it comes down to the theory of creationism… oops! I meant the theory of multi-tasking. There’s no such thing! Nobody multi-tasks. I don’t care what they tell you, it just doesn’t happen. Can they rapidly switch back and forth between two tasks, seeming to be doing more than one thing at a time? Sure they can. But they probably don’t have ADD/ADHD.

For me, absorbing new information isn’t difficult, but it IS a task that requires my full attention. Looking at the glowering face of some malcontent with bad breath and scabs FREAKIN’ DISTRACTS ME from assimilating that new information. I always through out the “no disrespect intended” clause, and I give up the ADD too, if I feel like it might help them understand me.

But when they turn that around and punish me and THEN fire me for it, it’s time to get a lawyer.

Posted by Enterprizer on Nov 05, 2013 at 11:11am

I just read an article on the site about whether or not to disclose your ADD/ADHD. Eventually the author gets around to giving you the reasons why/when you *should*, but starts out with a near-blanket statement that your should NOT.

THAT is just plain nuts. If you understand your disability, you know that it’s just a matter of time before you screw up… and screw up again… and again. Maybe nothing huge… late one day..  a busted project deadline another.. inability to fully engage “real-time” at an important meeting… ALL of these things add up to paint you as a screw-up. My feelings on the matter is GET IN FRONT OF IT. Take the article’s advice on how to communicate your condition, but don’t, for the gods’ sakes, WAIT until you’re already in trouble!

If you’re late a few times and you get written up/punished somehow, you CANNOT GET THE RECORD straightened out by asking for an accommodation AFTER the fact! If your employer doesn’t know about your disability, all punishments STAND as is, and it could forever blemish your work record, or even result in termination. Request the necessary accommodation(s) BEFORE you start showing up late (or whatever you do to get in hot water). If your accommodation is granted (one for ADD is “flexible work schedules”), then you’ve got that protection in place before you get in trouble. I repeat, your employer is NOT obliged to expunge records of perceived bad behavior if they are UNAWARE of your disability and you are lacking the necessary accommodation(s). If you DO have the accommodation in place, punishing you for things that fall within the scope of your accommodation is “disability-based discrimination” and it’s against the law.

Hide your condition if you wish, but just know that doing so, you’re the one who’s going to eat the consequences related to those undisclosed conditions.

Posted by Enterprizer on Nov 08, 2013 at 6:09pm

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