Social Isolation And ADHD: 15 Strategies For Building Stronger Connections | Life Skills Advocate


It’s no secret that social isolation can have a severe impact on mental health, especially for those diagnosed with ADHD or who are neurodiverse in other ways. Social isolation has become a reality of our times, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Research continues to suggest that prolonged periods of social isolation can cause emotional distress, loneliness, and depression.

Research also suggests ADHD, neurodiversity, and social isolation are closely linked.

If you are neurodiverse, you are more likely to become socially isolated (for a few different reasons).

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at why that might be the case and what you can do about it.

What is social isolation?

While there’s not a clear one-size-fits-all definition, in general, social isolation refers to the state of being cut off from social interaction with other people, either voluntarily or involuntarily.

Social isolation can happen when an individual has limited contact with family, friends, or community. Factors like as living alone, physical limitations, mental illness, or geographic location can all contribute to social isolation.

Does ADHD Cause Social Isolation?

ADHD can have a major effect on someone’s social life – perhaps in more ways than you might realize. Here are a few ways that it can increase the likelihood of experiencing social isolation.

Feeling Different

If you have ADHD, you may often feel like you are different from everyone else around you.

You’re not alone in this experience – this feeling of being “different” can lead to feelings of loneliness and alienation, making it difficult for those with ADHD to make and maintain meaningful connections with others.

Feeling Overwhelmed

ADHD can cause difficulty in focusing, and this can be especially true in social situations. Those with the condition may become easily overwhelmed by the amount of sensory input that comes from a crowded room or large gathering – leading them to isolate themselves rather than try to engage in conversation or activities.

Being Inconsistent

Those with ADHD may find it difficult to keep up a consistent routine or schedule when it comes to interacting with others. Forgetting important dates or appointments, arriving late, and other inconsistencies can lead to social problems – creating further feelings of isolation.

Having a Poor Memory

Because those with ADHD have difficulty focusing on tasks for long periods of time, they may also have trouble retaining information which can affect their relationships with others.

People who cannot remember details about conversations, birthdays, names, etc., may be hesitant about engaging socially for fear of looking foolish or forgetful in front of friends or family members – causing further social isolation.

Struggling With Social Skills

People with ADHD may find it hard to maintain conversations, may lack empathy for others, or may be prone to socially unacceptable behaviors, such as interrupting or speaking out of turn. It’s also common for people with ADHD to miss important cues from their peers and friends, making it harder for them to build meaningful relationships.

Low Self-Esteem

You may feel embarrassed about their symptoms or may fear that others will judge them because of it. Low self-esteem can lead people to withdraw from their peers and avoid situations where they might face ridicule or criticism. It’s also common for people with low self-esteem to struggle with forming close relationships and friendships because they don’t believe they deserve them.

Depression and Other Conditions

Depression is often characterized by fatigue, lethargy, irritability, apathy, and hopelessness – all factors that make it difficult for someone living with this condition to interact positively with their peers and participate in activities that could help improve their mood and well-being.

Anxiety disorders are often linked with feelings of fear and worry as well, which can inhibit an individual’s ability to take part in activities outside the home or even voice their opinion in conversations among friends or family members.

Social Isolation and the Executive Functioning Ripple Effect

All of the concerns above can contribute to we discuss at LSA as “The EF Ripple Effect” or the idea that struggling with executive functioning skills related to planning, organization, routines, and attentional control can cascade into other areas of social behavior.

Over time, the secondary consequences of these EF skill delays deteriorate social relationships with family and friends.

As social relationships deteriorate individuals experience greater social isolation, and the spiral continues.

How to Create Stronger Social Connections

Being neurodivergent can make it difficult to establish and build meaningful relationships. It can be hard to stay focused on conversations, remember important details about people, or even know how to start a conversation in the first place.

But creating strong social connections isn’t impossible—it just takes some extra effort and planning.

Here are 15 tips for developing stronger social relationships to help you overcome feelings of being socially isolated as a neurodivergent person.

15 Strategies to Avoid Social Isolation

Boost Executive Functioning Skills

As the EF Ripple Effect above suggests, for some individuals, a boost in executive function can create reduce the barriers to developing stronger social connections.

Conducting a skills assessment can help evaluate if a tiny boost in each area or a significant overhaul in one area is needed most. To identify the most significant areas of concern, conduct an EF skills assessment.

We’ve created a set of free .pdf downloadable EF Assessments to help you and your learner develop a plan for which core executive functioning areas are the most important to start working on now.

Be Aware of Others – and Yourself

The most important thing when making connections is being aware of both yourself and the person you’re talking to. You should know your own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to communication, as well as what you need in order to be successful in any given conversation.

This means understanding how ADHD affects you—what triggers distractibility, how it impacts your memory or focus, etc.—and being able to recognize when those things come into play during a conversation.

At the same time, try to be aware of the person you’re speaking with by actively listening and noticing small cues that might help you gain insight into their thoughts or feelings. Taking note of these types of details will help strengthen your connection with them.

Understand What Your Friendships Mean to You

It’s also important for neurodivergent people, particularly those with ADHD, to think about why they want friendships in the first place. Doing this can help clarify what kind of friends you want – like-minded individuals who share similar interests or someone who understands your condition better than others – as well as what kind of relationships you need in order for them to be meaningful for both parties involved.

Plan Things Out and Set Reminders

Once you understand why friendships are important to you, it’s time to get organized! Planning ahead is key when trying to foster strong social connections because having an idea of what activities or conversations may come up can help keep conversations on track (or at least give a good starting point).

It also helps if you set reminders so that you don’t forget important dates or tasks related to maintaining friendships (i.e., calling someone on their birthday). Having these things written down will not only make it easier for you to remember, but also provide a sense of structure that can alleviate any anxiety associated with connecting with new people or maintaining existing relationships.

Subscribe to a Service to Remind You of Important Dates

One way to strengthen your social connections is by subscribing to an online service that will remind you of important dates like anniversaries, birthdays, and other special occasions. This way, you won’t forget a special day and will be able to show your friends and family how much they mean to you.

Consider signing up for services like Postable or Paperless Post that send cards automatically so that you don’t have to worry about remembering every single date.

Repeat Things Back – and Don’t Interrupt – During Conversations

Nothing says “I care about what you are saying” more than repeating back what someone said during a conversation. Listening is one of the most important aspects of building stronger social connections because it demonstrates that you value what the other person is saying.

Perhaps even more importantly, avoid interrupting the other person while they are speaking; instead, wait until they have finished their thought before responding or asking questions.

For more on conversations, check out our article: 14 Tips for Overcoming Interrupting with ADHD.

Work On Your Memory and Organizational Skills

Being organized can go a long way in improving your social life. Developing better working memory skills can help you remember important details, such as someone’s birthday or favorite food, so that when it comes time for celebrations or get-togethers, you won’t forget anything. These may seem like small things, but in the context of building better relationships, they go a long way.

To improve your organizational skills, try creating lists or setting calendar reminders for specific tasks or events related to your social life.

Ask Those You Trust to Help You Find Your “Blind Spots”

Sometimes, it’s hard to know what areas of our personalities we should work on in order to build better relationships with others. That’s why it’s important to ask those you trust for feedback on your blind spots—the things that you don’t notice or acknowledge but may be having an impact on your relationships.

It could be subtle behaviors, such as getting too caught up in yourself when talking with someone else, or something more obvious, like not being a good listener. Once you have identified these “blind spots,” you can work on them so that they no longer hinder your ability to connect with others.

Set Boundaries

We all need boundaries in order for us to feel comfortable and safe in our interactions with others. Setting boundaries means understanding where our own needs end and those of other people begin.

It also involves being honest and assertive about what we expect from those around us—for example, if someone has done something that offends us or makes us uncomfortable, it’s important that we clearly communicate this so they know not to do it again. This will help create healthier relationships based on mutual respect and understanding.

Follow Through on Commitments

One of the best ways to show someone you care is by following through on commitments made between both parties. If you make plans with someone, keep them unless something truly unavoidable comes up (in which case, let them know as soon as possible).

Showing that you are reliable and dependable is essential for building strong social connections because it demonstrates trustworthiness — a trait that everyone values highly in any relationship.

Practice Self-Care

Self-care is essential to maintaining any relationship, including relationships with friends and family members. Take some time to dedicate yourself to yourself—whether that means taking a hot bath or getting enough sleep—and let go of self-criticism while focusing on self-compassion.

A little bit of self-care can go a long way toward helping you feel more connected and confident in yourself and your interactions with others.

Lean Into What Makes You a Good Friend

Think about what makes you an awesome friend—your sense of humor, willingness to listen, etc.—and focus on leaning into those qualities when interacting with others. Not only will it help build confidence in yourself and your abilities as a friend, but it will also remind others why they like being around you in the first place!

Join a Support Group

It’s natural for us all to feel alone at times, especially if we don’t have many close friends or family members nearby. Joining an online support group or local meetup can help fill the gap by giving you access to people who understand what it’s like living with ADHD and other forms of neurodivergence. It also gives you the opportunity to make real friendships that last outside the virtual world.

Educate Yourself about Social Relationships

If you’re struggling with making strong social connections, you may want to watch Brené Brown’s video on “feeling worthy of love” and check out loneliness expert John Cacioppo’s book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection for additional insight into how best to strengthen your social connections.

Educating yourself not only helps better equip you for creating strong relationships; it also gives you valuable insight into why certain behaviors work better than others when connecting with others socially.

Work With an Executive Function Coach

If making and maintaining friendships feels overwhelming, consider working with an executive function coach who specializes in neurodivergence such as ADHD or autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

An executive function coach is experienced in helping neurodivergent individuals build strong self-management skills for managing day-to-day tasks like time management and organization, which, believe it or not, are critical components of successful relationships too.

Final Thoughts

Although social isolation isn’t something experienced by every person with ADHD, it is no doubt more common in those of us who are neurodivergent.

Fortunately, there are many things we can do to mitigate feelings of social isolation associated with ADHD, such as understanding our own symptoms, seeking professional help if needed, developing healthy coping strategies and habits for self-care, and finding supportive communities where we feel heard and accepted by others who understand.

Consider the tips above, and remember – you’re not alone.

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