ADHD Kids May Need Help in Recognizing Emotions in Others

Posted June 16, 2008 by

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Have you ever been in a situation in public where your ADHD child continues to annoy others (or you) with their inappropriate behavior, even though you’ve given them every cue that they should stop? A recent study* conducted by The University of Western Australia found that ADHD boys had a hard time correctly identifying the emotions of facial expressions in drawings they were shown.

So if you’re the parent of an ADHD kid, be aware of the fact that your child might not be picking up on a lot of non-verbal cues that most of us take for granted. He or she could be reading something entirely different into a facial expression–or perhaps not reading anything into it at all! One way to tackle this problem with your child is by using drawings and photos of people or characters. Ask your child what emotion the person is displaying in the photo, and talk about it together. This can be done while reading a picture book or magazine, or looking through a family photo album. Point out the expressions of the people you see, and ask your child how you think that person is feeling. There are other resources for this activity as well. For example, the website has a game in its “Arthur” section that gives younger kids points for correctly identifying what emotion a character from the show is feeling.

When I developed the Total Focus program, I made sure to provide materials to help kids learn how to properly identify facial expressions as part of the “Social Skills” module. The good news for parents is, Your ADHD child can be taught to properly interpret facial expressions–one of the first steps to stopping inappropriate behavior.


Dr Robert Myers is a child psychologist with more than 25 years of experience working with children and adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and learning disabilities and is the creator of the Total Focus Program. Dr Myers is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at UC Irvine School of Medicine. "Dr Bob" has provided practical information for parents as a radio talk show host and as editor of Child Development Institute's website, which reaches 3 million parents each year. Dr. Myers earned his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.

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