Aaron’s family were one of the first referrals I had when I opened my private practice. Aaron was a 19-year-old who was academically gifted and had ADHD.
Before meeting Aaron his parents shared with me that Aaron had gone through high school without any social connections and was disliked by many of his classmates in his advanced placement courses. They knew this because Aaron’s teachers had shared with them that he often exhibited a level of intellectual arrogance in class. He would regularly correct his classmates when they answered questions incorrectly. When doing group work in school, he would often criticize his group mate’s ideas, which led to his classmates not wanting him in their groups.
Aaron struggled socially from a young age and went through multiple therapists who were not helpful, which is understandable. He knew he was disliked by his classmates and would become defensive and argumentative with his parents when they would get pulled into the reasoning vortex and try to reason with Aaron about how he was coming across to others.
“He’s been working with this therapist since 10th grade, and we know it’s not helpful, but Aaron loves him. He strokes Aaron’s ego and tells him how smart and wonderful he is. We wanted to stop therapy, but Aaron did not want to stop seeing him, it’s the only validation he gets.”, Aaron's father explained to me.
Aaron’s parents went on to explain that Aaron had started his first year of college in the honors program of a small, prestigious university. He resided on a dorm floor that was specifically for students in the honors program. The first two weeks of his college experience started off well. Aaron felt socially included for the first time ever with his classmates in the honors program and as his parents said, was happy for the first time since they could remember.
During the third week of the semester some of the girls in the honors program had shared with the boys on Aaron’s floor that Aaron’s behavior towards them was making them uncomfortable. They described how he was “hitting on them”. The boys on Aaron’s floor decided to confront Aaron together about his behavior towards the girls.
Aaron responded to this by lashing out at the boys and stating that he was going to break into the boys’ and girls’ laptops and steal their social security numbers so they would be victims of identify theft. The boys reported this to the University. The University explained to Aaron and his parents that Aaron could either withdraw from the University, or they would begin the disciplinary proceedings to expel him.
Aaron then spent his spring semester at a community college living at home before I met him that summer. Upon meeting Aaron, he was immediately cantankerous with me. I explained how I could help him. I was honest with him about how his social learning challenges (difficulty with social skills) could have long-lasting social ramifications. He was not interested in my help.
In a follow up phone call with Aaron’s parents Aaron’s mother said, “The therapist told us he was going to do great socially at college because it was a fresh start. This completely blindsided us.” “Had I met you before Aaron went away to college, I would have told you that I thought it was best if he lived at home initially, given his social learning challenges. As for the therapist, I’m sorry to tell you he doesn’t understand Aaron very well if he genuinely thought Aaron would thrive at college.”
Aaron’s parents asked me my opinion about Aaron attending a local university that had a program designed for students with Asperger’s. I shared with them that I was familiar with the program and did not feel that what the program offered justified it's cost. They went forward with enrolling Aaron in this program which was the last I heard from them.
Several years later I was set up as a vendor at a local ADHD conference and had run out of brochures so I called the closest store that I knew could make copies. The store employee who answered the phone had an abrasive tone and said, “Just come in.” and hung up on me. When I went into the store and saw Aaron at the front register answering the phone, my phone conversation made perfect sense. It was Aaron who had answered the phone.
Aaron was academically gifted and was able to compensate for his executive function challenges through his strong academic motivation. Unfortunately, intelligence does not compensate for social learning challenges, nor can it compensate for behavior that is off-putting to your peers. Your peers are the judge of your social skills, no one else.
Aaron’s sense of self was formed around his intellect. He thrived on adults complimenting him on his intellect and used his intellect as a “shield” to protect himself from the years of social rejection he faced as a result of his intellectual arrogance combined with his lack of perspective-taking skills.
Despite his intelligence Aaron will have to work very hard to improve his perspective-taking skills or his off-putting behavior will not serve him well in life. There are many extremely intelligent people in the world with ADHD who never reach their full potential because of their social learning challenges.
- Never praise their intelligence. Intelligence is a genetic trait that requires no effort. Check out my YouTube video Kids with ADHD & Praise to learn what you should praise.
- Teach your child that intellectual arrogance is one of the most off-putting behaviors to his/her peers. Point out to them when they are being a “know it all”, or correcting others. If you do not do this because you are more concerned about protecting their feelings, I can promise you they will learn this through being socially ostracized or rejected, as Aaron did.
- Check out my videos in the Dudes Learn Social playlist where I’m teaching kids in my school year and summer camp programs.
- Join the ADHD Dude mailing list to be notified when my next webinar series about social skills (not gender specific) is released, as well as my upcoming book about social skills for boys: www.kidswithadhd.net