Social Problems in ADHD: Is it a Skills Acquisition or Performance Problem?

  • Paula A. Aduen
  • Taylor N. Day
  • Michael J. Kofler
  • Sherelle L. Harmon
  • Erica L. Wells
  • Dustin E. Sarver


Recent models suggest that social skills training’s inefficacy for children with ADHD may be due to target misspecification, such that their social problems reflect inconsistent performance rather than knowledge/skill gaps. No study to date, however, has disentangled social skills acquisition from performance deficits in children with ADHD. Children ages 8–12 with ADHD (n = 47) and without ADHD (n = 23) were assessed using the well-validated social behavioral analysis framework to quantify cross-informant social skills acquisition deficits, performance deficits, and strengths. Results provided support for the construct and predictive validities of this Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS) alternate scoring method, including expected magnitude and valence relations with BASC-2 social skills and ADHD symptoms based on both parent and teacher report. Acquisition deficits were relatively rare and idiosyncratic for both the ADHD and Non-ADHD groups, whereas children with ADHD demonstrated cross-informant social performance deficits (d = 0.82–0.99) on several specific behaviors involving attention to peer directives, emotion regulation, and social reciprocity. Relative to themselves, children with ADHD were perceived by parents and teachers as exhibiting more social strengths than social acquisition deficits; however, they demonstrated significantly fewer social strengths than the Non-ADHD group (d = −0.71 to −0.89). These findings are consistent with recent conceptualizations suggesting that social problems in ADHD primarily reflect inconsistent performance rather than a lack of social knowledge/skills. Implications for refining social skills interventions for ADHD are discussed.


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder ADHD Social skills Social behavioral analysis framework 



This work was supported in part by a UVa Curry School of Education Foundation grant (PI: Kofler) from the Galant Family and an NIH grant (R34 MH102499-01, PI: Kofler). The sponsors had no role in design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; or preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript. The authors thank Jamie Spiegel for her helpful comments on the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Paula A. Aduen, Taylor N. Day, Michael J. Kofler, Sherelle L. Harmon, Erica L. Wells, Dustin E. Sarver declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Experiment Participants

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Curry School of EducationUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  3. 3.Department of Pediatrics, Center for Advancement of YouthUniversity of Mississippi Medical CenterJacksonUSA

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