Throughout my years of developing and running social/recreational programs for kids with ADHD and related challenges I have always encountered kids who have a good time in an activity, socialize appropriately with the other kids yet will go home and tell their parents that they were bored or did not enjoy their experience. Many parents take what their son says at face value or mistake their child’s intelligence or ability to articulate himself as a mature judgement. As a result they allow him to avoid participating in social/recreational experiences which often results in retreating into a virtual world of video games and online “friends” who are strangers they may game with.
Here are some reasons why kids with ADHD often do not realize when they are enjoying themselves:
1. Accessing episodic memory– Episodic memory is our memories of our experiences. We use episodic memory to be able to recall past information and experiences. When someone has difficulty accessing episodic memory they have difficulty recalling past experiences or information and applying that information to the present. Kids with ADHD often have difficulty recalling past experiences thus they may not even remember that they were successful or the fact that they enjoy themselves. If you ever ask your son what was the best part of an experience and he says “I don’t know” this is the reason why.
2. Understanding the “bigger picture” of these experiences-The ADHD brain often focuses on details and misses the bigger picture. This is why kids with ADHD often struggle with reading comprehension as well as writing in school. If you have difficulty understanding the “bigger picture” or what’s important from an experience your brain may just focus on small details. I have worked with kids who have attended my summer programs, did well, connected with other kids yet reported that they did not enjoy camp. What I often find in these situations is that they were bored while in line for an activity, waiting for something etc. They miss the bigger picture that there are always boring moments in life. More importantly, they’re missing the bigger picture because they’re focusing one a small detail that may have lasted 15 minutes instead of looking at their overall experience.
3. Relating to others and sharing emotional experiences-Many kids with ADHD struggle with understanding how to form emotional connections with their peers. As a result, they miss out on sharing emotional experiences. In other words, they’re physically present but they’re not connected to the group. Our good memories of experiences are based on feeling connected and sharing emotions, more so than the actual place or activity. If your son struggles with connecting, he is missing out on the most important part of experiences. As a result, he may say he was bored, he didn’t have a good time, etc. because he wasn’t feeling connected to the other kids involved.
If your son needs help understanding how to enjoy social experiences, connect with his peers and understand the “bigger picture” let’s talk about how we can help him.