Someone with ADHD can sometimes seem rude or disrespectful, but understanding their ADHD symptoms can clarify their intentions.

Curtains being blown from open window, symbolic of clearing the air.Share on Pinterest
yipengge/Getty Images

If you have a friend who always seems to interrupt you before you can finish what you’re saying, it can leave you feeling frustrated or disrespected.

But if that person is living with ADHD, understanding the symptoms of their condition can help you improve your understanding of their behaviors. This will ultimately lead to better communication and understanding in your relationship.

Understanding what ADHD looks like can help you realize why someone may be behaving in ways that seem offensive to you.

There are 3 main types of ADHD:

  • inattentive type: marked by difficulty focusing, listening, or paying attention
  • hyperactive-impulsive type: features strong feelings of restlessness and impulsivity
  • combination type: a mixture of symptoms

In adults, impulsive behaviors can sometimes look like emotional outbursts, impatience, or interruptions. Inattention can translate to someone seeming distracted or uninterested in what you’re saying.

Although these behaviors can complicate relationships at times and come off as rude, they’re neither intentional nor personal. They can also be challenging to control for someone with ADHD.

It’s important to understand that what you’re seeing as rudeness is actually an effect of ADHD.

Related disorders associated with disrespect

There are other conditions that may resemble ADHD with symptoms that can also come off as rude or disrespectful.

For example, someone with frequent anger or argumentative behavior may be living with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

Someone may have ODD on its own, or it can co-occur with ADHD. To be diagnosed, someone must have at least 4 of the following symptoms over 6 months:

  • angry, irritable moods which may look like:
    • frequently losing their temper
    • appearing resentful or touchy
    • annoyance
  • defiant and argumentative behaviors, especially against authority, which can appear as:
    • actively refusing to honor the requests of others or follow rules
    • deliberately annoying others
    • blaming others for their own mistakes
  • vindictive or spiteful behavior

I think it’s rude to hum, avoid eye contact, or interrupt someone while they’re speaking. Why do some people with ADHD do this?

Some behaviors, like humming, tapping, or word repetition serve as methods of self-stimulation, yet can come off as rude if you don’t understand it.

If you’ve ever found yourself biting your nails, shaking your leg, or twirling your hair when you were nervous, then you can relate to the calming effect of self-stimulation. In people with ADHD, this sort of self-stimulating behavior — called “stimming” — may help them self-soothe or focus.

These self-stimulating behaviors may also help regulate hyperactivity or improve cognitive control, which is supported by the findings from a small 2015 study.

What are the behavioral issues associated with ADHD in kids and adults?

While the main features of ADHD are the same regardless of age, they usually look different in children and adults.

Common adult ADHD behaviors include:

  • difficulty managing time
  • challenges staying organized and planning
  • excessive frustration, irritability, or anger
  • difficulty maintaining relationships

Common childhood ADHD behaviors may look like:

  • restlessness (inappropriately jumping, running, climbing, etc.)
  • being disruptive in school
  • finding it hard to stay focused and complete schoolwork
  • difficulties waiting their turn

Does ADHD make you argumentative or prone to say mean things?

Sometimes, being argumentative or even saying mean things can stem from an inability to slow down and recognize how other people are reacting or feeling.

This again falls into impulsivity and hyperactivity. But if you were to call out someone with ADHD as rude, they may respond by being defensive.

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, a children’s behavioral health expert in Ridgefield, Connecticut explains: “When you have a verbally impulsive kid, it leads to a lot of friction in relationships. When you can’t put the brakes on, you’re more easily upset and irritated, you might impulsively say things, and one of your defense mechanisms can be arguing.”

Taking the time to recognize how those with ADHD experience interactions is crucial to maintaining your relationship. And mindfulness around ADHD helps prevent defensive behaviors.

How does ADHD affect executive functioning?

One well-studied issue in ADHD is a lack of executive functioning.

This 2020 study highlights that the part of the brain responsible for executive function skills such as planning, prioritizing, and self-control is often dysfunctional in people with ADHD.

According to Cappana-Hodge, nearly everybody with ADHD has executive functioning problems.

For example, if someone with ADHD wants to cook a recipe and has to go to the grocery store, they might not remember what’s in the recipe. In this example, she says their brain may not forward think, or inattention might cause them to forget their grocery list.

But Cappana-Hodge emphasizes that “executive function can be learned, and parents can teach their kids.”

How do you discipline a kid with ADHD?

Remembering that children with ADHD need a different parenting approach, disciplinary strategies should likely assume a different form.

“It’s about teaching your child, and not punishing them,” Cappana-Hodge says. She adds that kids with learning and attention challenges take longer to learn something and need more diligent reinforcement.

Although it can be frustrating to have to repeat yourself multiple times, doing so is more likely to ensure that your message will be heard. Shifting the focus from discipline to teaching can help reframe the interaction from negative to positive.

Sometimes, people living with ADHD may behave in ways that come off as rude or disrespectful. These behaviors can stem from challenges with self-control, executive functioning, and self-stimulating actions.

How you perceive their behavior often depends on your understanding of ADHD symptoms. If you start to look at things from their perspective, you may see that it’s not so rude after all.

If you’re the parent of a child with ADHD, you may want to shift your mindset from disciplinarian to educator, which can help reinforce acceptable behaviors. Executive function skills can be learned — like most other skills, they require repetition and continued guidance.