ADHD kids often have difficulty with social relationships. Because of their impulsivity, they often miss the subtle nuances of interpersonal communication, much of which is nonverbal. Duke, Nowicki, and Martin have identified six different aspects of nonverbal communication that facilitate relationships.
Paralanguage consists of all aspects of sound which accompany words or act independently of them to communicate emotion. This includes tone of voice, rate of speech and emphasis and variation in speech. For example, when my mother was angry with me she stated, “Come here, Mr. Graham.” That statement implies something totally different from the same statement made by my college registrar calling on me to register for classes. ADHD kids often miss these differences.
The ability to read and express the subtleties of facial expression is critical for effective communication. The way we show our feelings in our facial expressions enhances our communication. Our “resting face” also sends information to others. Look in the mirror. When we are not aware of what we want to communicate to others, we are wearing our resting face. Others then infer that we are happy, angry, fearful or sad people. What does your resting face look like?
Postures and Gestures
Postures and gestures are long distance communicators, revealing details about our ethnic origins, level of energy, attitude and motivation. A slumped posture suggests a bared unmotivated person while a person sitting erect in their seat with eyes wide open suggests an interested, enthusiastic individual. It is often said that certain ethnic groups use broad gestures such as waving their hands when they talk while other ethic groups appear more reserved.
Interpersonal Distance (Space) and Touch
Setting boundaries is one of the biggest difficulties that ADHD children experience. They are often hitting or touching other children without invitation. We all have four zones of space around us. In the United States, our intimate space is in a circle zero to 18 inches around us. Only those people that we allow into our intimate space are welcome there. Our personal space is between 18 inches and four feet. When we have personal conversations with people, it is within this distance. If we are further away from each other, then we are inviting others into our conversation. This is actually our social space, from 4 to 12 feet. We are more public with our interactions in this space. Public space is 12 feet and beyond. We are addressing larger groups or are allowing anyone to share our experience.
Middle Easterners tend to view Americans as cold and aloof because their personal space starts much closer to the body than do Americans. Conversely, Americans often feel that Middle Easterners are pushy because they invade personal space.
Rhythm and Time
Recognizing another person’s rhythm and adapting to that rhythm is necessary for sustaining relationships. When our ADHD child wakes up in the morning “bouncing off the wall” because the medication has not kicked in yet and we are still moving slow as we get our self started, we experience a conflict in rhythm. Use of time is another aspect of nonverbal communication that influences our perceptions of others. Time management is often viewed as responsible behavior. Individuals who are consistently late are often believed to be lazy, irresponsible and disrespectful.
Objectics describes our self-image and the impression that we make on others. Included in this is our style of dress, body odor and personal hygiene. When we pay attention to our image, we make conscious choices as to how we come across. If we do not “work on our image” then people make their own impressions of us which may not be how we would like ourselves to be known.
Using mirrors, television and movies as opportunities to provide examples of how people use nonverbal communication (both negatively and positively) can be a way to help our children be more aware of their nonverbal messages. Characters on TV are usually use exaggerated gestures and facial expressions to communicate their emotions and intentions. At last, a constructive reason to watch television with your child.