Abstract||Children and young people with ADHD often experience social difficulties, which are associated with poor psychological, behavioural, and academic outcomes. As yet, underlying mechanisms of poor social functioning are unknown. The social functioning of fifty-two children (M = 14.13 years) who had been diagnosed with ADHD four years previously and their matched controls were assessed using several measures: the ratings of parents/guardians and teachers, and children's self-reports; a conversation task; the Otago Social Dilemma Test. Analyses were conducted for the whole sample plus a Socially-Impaired subgroup (clinically significant social problems), and a Persistent-ADHD subgroup (continued to meet DSM-IV ADHD criteria).
First we compared the social functioning of children in the ADHD group with that of children in the control group by analysing the questionnaire responses of parents/guardians, teachers, and children's self-reports. Children in the ADHD group and Socially-Impaired sub-group were rated as experiencing more social problems and having fewer social skills than control children, across all informants. Children also estimated their own popularity, and despite experiencing social difficulties, no differences in children's popularity ratings were observed between children in the ADHD group and control group.
Given that children in the ADHD group showed social difficulties, we investigated whether these deficits were driven by children's conversation skills. Children engaged in a 15-minute conversation with an adult confederate. The frequency of conversation skills were coded and analysed. Across all groups, ADHD children asked more questions, were less likely to offer extended information in response to a question, and were more likely to make at least one unco-operative statement. The number of extended verbal responses accounted for a significant amount of the variance in participants' social skills. Overall, however, the conversations of children with and without ADHD were remarkably similar. It appears, therefore, that it may be language style that influences social difficulties.
Next we investigated a second mechanism that might account for social difficulties observed in children with ADHD; social problem solving skills. Children completed the Otago Social Dilemma Test, which involved viewing vignettes of social dilemmas and generating possible solutions to these problems. Children in the ADHD group provided poorer descriptions and showed less understanding of the problems portrayed. Although the ADHD participants were able to generate a similar number of solutions to the social problems as the children in the Control group, they made poorer decisions about what was the 'best solution'. ADHD participants' choice for best solution significantly added to a model of their social problems, even after IQ and severity of inattentive symptoms had been added.
Taken together, the present study supports research showing that children with ADHD experience social difficulties, but they may lack insight into the effect of their behaviour on their status among peers. Children's conversation and their problem solving abilities may be factors influencing poor social functioning. Interventions that focus on teaching children to recognise social cues and generate appropriate solutions to social dilemmas may be beneficial.