Friday, 4 January 2013

Social Media’s Hidden ADHD Challenge

Gaining ADHD social skills while socializing at the pub instead of social media
Gaining ADHD social skills while socializing at the pub instead of social media
A friend’s recent abdication from a popular social media site and his careful reasoning behind it gave me pause. Not for the first time, I considered my own participation in social media.

In the past, I’d often bemoaned the fact that younger generations are missing out on what I consider to be critical social skills. How can you learn social graces and develop social aptitude when your face’s buried in an App?


These two considerations collided forcefully this morning.

I landed at the intersection between my own acquisition of social skills versus my social media use.

Only yesterday, I’d been congratulating my friend for opting out of social media in favor of increased face time. Yet I hadn’t considered how my own online interactions were affecting my hard-won social skills.

Social media: bane or boon to ADHD?
One of the greatest challenges of being diagnosed with ADHD late in life is that you have decades of social skills training to catch up on. For the first few years after my diagnosis, I made a concerted effort to learn to read the social cues I’d missed (or ignored) thus far.
About four years after my diagnosis, I finally caved to the temptation of a certain social media site (after a lifetime of being the left out loser, I’d had enough of being mystified by my best friend’s knowledge of every cool social event going, while I remained hopelessly outside the loop, and sitting at home.)

The first, and most obvious dilemma of joining F…, er, that ubiquitous time-swallower that shall not be named… was that social media stirred up all my worst ADHD traits: poor time management; being easily distracted; transition troubles; hyperfocusing when I shouldn’t; impulsivity, and more.

What I suddenly realized was that immersing myself in various forms of social media might also be effectively eroding my hard-won social skills. As one famous horse trainer allegedly opined, if a horse isn’t learning, it’s un-learning. [cue Zoë whinnying]

Social media as social leveller?
Then again, maybe social media sites are the perfect place for someone with ADHD to hang out. After all, the behaviors I see there are classic ADHD, whether or not they’re coming from someone who actually has ADHD.
There’s no lack of impulsivity, angry outbursts, inappropriate flirting, usage times tantamount to addiction, and so on; maybe I’ve just found my home.

Is that all there is?
Still, I can’t help but think that the amount of time all of us, ADHD or not, spend in digital relationships threatens to dehumanize us. There’s no solace in knowing that others have perhaps eroded their social skills to the level of an untreated ADHDer. I may have started out at a deficit, but in the big picture, I’d like to see all of us more adept at real-life interpersonal skills, not less.
“It turns out we are wired to connect! Nature has wried [sic] into our brains the impulse to connect and join in with another person.”
~ Dr. Ned Hallowell, from Top 10 Newest Findings About ADHD
In my view, actual flesh-and-blood interaction is the only way to establish and nurture the kinds of connections that Dr. Ned Hallowell often talks about. In this as in other areas of ADHD, Hallowell is a pioneer.

Hallowell’s emphasis on building and nurturing connections with others as a road to success, health, and happiness, especially for those of us with ADHD, is unparalleled. And, as I see it, it’s a harbinger of things to come if we continue in a direction that erodes rather than builds on our full capacity as living, breathing, flesh and bone beings.

Maybe my friend was right: maybe it’s time to unplug or at least strictly limit the amount of time I spend online, and get out there and keep honing my real-world social skills.
Besides, one of my goals in 2013 is more hugs, smiles, hikes, and massages – given and received. And that ain’t gonna happen on Twitter.

Now, who wants to go for a walk?

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