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Social Skills Training and Coaching

Margaret V. Austin, Ph.D., edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

Social skills training for children with ADHD

As children mature, they gradually become aware of how their behavior impacts others. However, children with ADHD have been described as "bulls in a china shop." They move through the day quickly, often without giving much thought to the feelings or needs of others. This lack of awareness, coupled hyperactive, aggressive, and impulsive behaviors, creates social problems. This unfortunate combination clearly has the potential to cause problems in all relationships (both peers and adults). Although children with ADHD do care about other people, they are simply unaware of others' needs and/or cannot anticipate them. Likewise, it is difficult for them to consider things from someone else's perspective.

girls playing togetherSocial skills training classes are designed to improve peer relationships. In a classroom setting, students learn interpersonal interaction skills, such as how to initiate a conversation; how to observe and understand social cues; or, how to appreciate non-literal humor. These skills facilitate success in both the classroom and at home.

These classes differ from individual or group therapy in that the focus is primarily on interpersonal interactions; not emotions or personal change. Social skills training is typically taught in groups. Groups provide real-time opportunities to practice new skills with the other children in the skills class.


A relative newcomer to ADHD treatment is coaching. Coaching is aimed at helping people set and achieve realistic goals. This begins by evaluating individual challenges and gifts. Distinct from individual therapy, coaching is a supportive, non-therapeutic, approach. The coaching approach emphasizes spending more time each day operating from areas of strength, and less time struggling with difficulty. This approach shifts everyone's focus from correcting weaknesses to one of highlighting strengths. It may seem insignificant but this shift in perspective provides much needed balance. One's own behavior can be normalized- "I have both strengths and weakness just like all people do." This small change can have a big impact as it lessens the sense of being different from others.

This is not to say that coaching ignores or minimizes problems. Instead strengths are called into service to reduce or eliminate areas of relative weakness. Coaching is designed to teach some very specific and concrete skills that remediate challenging areas. This might include learning skills needed to sustain focus, note-taking skills, or memorization aids.

Coaching is usually well-received by participants because of its lighthearted, matter-of-fact approach. However, coaching is primarily used with older children and adults because it requires a certain level of cognitive maturity. Younger children simply lack the ability to consciously and directly intervene on their own behalf. Recently, a less cognitively demanding version was developed for use with younger children. It has shown some success (Maynard, n.d.).

Although many ADHD coaches are very good, the training and experience of each can vary greatly. It is important to carefully inquire into the qualifications of anyone you might consider hiring.