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ADHD in Girls

Social Cues

My almost 10 year old daughter was diagnosed with ADHD last school year.  We wondered if it was Asperger’s because she doesn’t seem to care about other people around her when they are sad or sick.  She cares about injustice to random animals, but not the people in her family.  Her doctor said she doesn’t have Aspergers, but is this lack of caring for others an ADHD thing??  Anyone else have this problem?


My daughter does not click into social cues as well.  Look into executive dysfunction. It may explain a lot.

Posted by Lori250 on Aug 22, 2014 at 1:46am

Yes my daughter too has troubles with social cues. She doesn’t seem to care when people are angry or frustrated, which makes us MORE angry & frustrated. I will say that her IEP at school is working with her on social cues & she is doing a bit better.

Posted by KristaB on Aug 22, 2014 at 2:32am

Hi nursemom!

What you are describing is empathy. Yes, some people with ADHD struggle with it, and some don’t. It is a very important element in reading social cues for sure.

This article offers strategies for teaching and nurturing empathy in kids with ADHD: The #1 way, of course, is to model empathy to your child. An added bonus is that being empathetic to our ADHD children is one of the best ways to help them work through emotional outbursts and frustration.

ADDconnect Moderator, Author & Mom to Tween Boy with ADHD and LDs

Posted by adhdmomma on Aug 22, 2014 at 3:58pm

I’m ADHD and Yeah Thats me my heart bleeds for injustice to animals (injustice by nature & human both)
I can’t see an animal in pain I sometimes even start to cry but it never hurts me when I see a human in pain ....

Posted by Bobby_pk on Aug 23, 2014 at 9:52am

Empathy can be difficult for people with ADHD because it is not automatic.  But the fact that she can care about animals tells you she has the capacity.  You must teach it to her.  You are going to have to help her learn to interpret social cues so she can be there for her friends and family in future.  Otherwise she could become self obsessed and not even really realize it.

You can’t do it at school with her friends obviously but you can talk with her when at home, out, with your own friends.  Just interpret outloud for her so she starts to notice - like “Did you see my friend Nancy’s face when she walked in? I think she must still be sad about losing her cat last month” or whatever.  Don’t ask her to do it but model for her what you are thinking inside your head.  Sometimes my 10 year old daughter is not even looking at people she gets so detached.  Easier on meds but she is compassionate about animals and can be about people in general.  One on one she has empathy towards me because I have been working on it.  Her father who has ADHD also she is not very intuned to because HE is so detached! But she does try.

Posted by YellaRyan on Aug 25, 2014 at 6:31pm

I am not an expert on the topic other than being an adult woman with ADHD. I do have trouble picking up on a lot of social cues, but feeling empathy for others has not been a problem for me. When I was younger, however, my parents would often accuse me of not feeling empathy because I didn’t always express it or express it in ways you might expect.

I think it may have been because it made me somewhat uncomfortable to talk about something that is bothering someone else—it’s their thing, who am I to comment? Also, I usually didn’t know the “correct” way to respond to someone who was sad about something. For example, when I was a kid, if my friend’s grandfather passed away, I wouldn’t know how to respond to that, so I would just not bring it up. It might have affected me, but I didn’t want to say something like “I’m sorry for your loss” because for one thing, it seemed to grown up and it embarrassed me to say something like that, and for another, I could never wrap my head around the concept of saying “I’m sorry” when someone dies, it didn’t make sense to me so I wouldn’t say it. Same if someone was sick—me saying, “I hope you feel better” wouldn’t make someone feel better so I just didn’t say it.

As an adult I have learned to just use this type of socially acceptable, meaningless cliche in negative situations to express my empathy. I have actually had a harder time with social conventions for positive situations. I have a very hard time saying “congratulations” when someone finds out they are pregnant AND when someone graduates from medical school. These are two very different things, yet we use “congratulations” for both. It still does not sit right with me, so I often try to avoid saying something like that. I also don’t like to make assumptions—what if someone is pregnant but isn’t super thrilled at the idea? Me jumping around being all happy and excited is only going to make them feel bad. And I have no idea what to say when someone makes a big announcement that they are engaged, I just don’t know what is the appropriate level response and the accurate way to express it. As a result I think some people think I’m cold, but I’m actually not at all.

...which is why I think the fact that your daughter shows empathy for animals means she probably feels empathy for humans too but just doesn’t know how to express it. I feel empathy for animals very, very strongly (I think it is common among ADHDers), and the good thing about animals is you don’t have to worry about social conventions of what to say or how to say it. If a dog is sick or injured you can sit there and stroke his fur and say anything you want in a loving tone and still make him feel better. You don’t have to feel embarrassment or wonder if what you’re saying is socially acceptable or think about the accuracy of what you’re saying.

I also think that sometimes the ADHD mind jumps to other things in a situation and one might verbally express that an association or observation has popped into one’s mind that makes it seem like you don’t care about what someone is going through. I remember a very clear example of this: I was 23 on 9/11/01 and I was living at home with my parents. We sitting at home that night glued to the TV like everyone else, and I made some kind of comment like, “wow, the reporters are a mess, they must be exhausted” (I was expressing empathy for the reporters!) but my mother turned to my father (right in front of me, and I was an adult) and said, “she doesn’t care about what’s happening in NY.” This angered and upset me very much, and I still remember 13 years later. Maybe my comment seemed trivial in comparison to other things going on, but just because I felt some level of empathy for the reporters (and expressed it) didn’t mean I didn’t feel empathy for the throngs of people searching for loved ones in NY. And, I might not have expressed the latter very strongly because to me, something like that would go without saying. Perhaps your daughter thinks it’s obvious that she feels bad when someone is sick so she doesn’t say it.

Posted by LLB827 on Sep 02, 2014 at 6:47pm

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