ADHD and Social Intelligence

In his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, author Howard Gardner identified interpersonal abilities as one form of intelligence that we all have n varying degrees. Since that time, the concept has been expanded to become known as social intelligence. Developing this type of intelligence poses special challenges for children with ADHD.

What is social intelligence?

Social intelligence is the capability to effectively navigate and negotiate complex social relationships and environments. Ronald Riggio, PhD, writing in Psychology Today, describes the key components of social intelligence as:

  • Verbal fluency and conversational skills
  • Knowledge of social roles, rules, and scripts
  • Effective listening skills
  • Understanding what makes other people tick
  • Role playing and Social self-confidence
  • Impression management skills
Daniel Goleman – Social Intelligence

How is social IQ measured?

The social intelligence quotient (SQ) is a statistical abstraction, similar to the ‘standard score’ approach used in IQ tests, with a mean of 100. Scores of 140 or above are considered to be very high. Unlike the standard IQ test, it is not a fixed model. Thus a person can change their SQ by altering their attitudes and behavior in response to their social environment.

Social challenges for kids with ADHD

Children with ADHD may exhibit a range of characteristics that can limit their social development and effectiveness. For example, they:

  • Are often impulsive
  • May be insensitive to interpersonal cues
  • Are easily distracted:
  • Can have a difficult time learning from experiences, whether positive or negative

These challenges can interfere with a child’s ability to create the relationships that are necessary for success in school and in life.

What you can do to lift your child’s social IQ

The good news is that parents can take some straightforward steps to help their ADHD child boost his or her social IQ. Cathi Cohen, LCSW, identifies a few of these below.

  • Talk to your child about the need for social skills. ”
  • Set a social goal with your child.
  • Carefully arrange a supervised, time-limited date for your child to spend with other children to practice newly learned social skills.
  • Review social goals with your child prior to social outings.
  • Choose play activities that are intrinsically simple and enticing.
  • Involve your child’s teachers and guidance counselors in helping to reinforce social goals.
  • Videotape or audiotape your child at home.
  • Prompt your child to think about the feelings and reactions of others.

Fortunately, the degree of social intelligence is not fixed. With applied focus and diligent effort, children with ADHD can develop their social skills and lift their social IQ.

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  1. Joanne Principe

    If the child has an IEP with related services, peer-to-peer counseling with supervision would help support the student in the school environment with low EQ (emotional quotient) skill-building. Additional tools that could help the parent, teacher, and child relationship is to assess the strengths of to lift self-esteem and develop them into talent. For kids 10-14 use Gallup’s StrengthsExplorers Assessment find at For teens high school and college students use Gallup’s