How to Build Social Skills in My ADHD Son

Updated on March 17, 2008
T.S. asks from Milwaukee, WI
24 answers

I have a 12 year old son who has ADHD. He was diagnosed in 2nd grade, when he was 7. He was and still is taking Adderall XR once a day to help with the symptoms. He is very shy and has difficulty making/keeping friends. I have tried to teach him basic social skills but I can't be with him all the time. When he is at school, the teachers said he has "peer issues" and likes to keep to himself alot. Any suggestions on how to help him be more outgoing and have more friends?

He plays baseball but it does not come easy to him, and the only time a friend would come over is if he calls them. He has never been invited to someones house on a regular basis.

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T.C.

answers from Davenport on

The medication may be what is stifling his personallity. I would try taking him off and changing his diet like someone else mentioned. ADHD is very often misdiagnosed. When given something or someone (a friend) to keep his mind and body consentrated on an playdates, you may find him just as much fun, maybe excitable, but more himself.

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A.L.

answers from Minneapolis on

Occupational Therapy to build social skills can be found through many pediatric OT places like Capable Kids in Chanhassen. They even have groups of kids meet for social interaction with professionals present.

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P.H.

answers from Davenport on

Tammy,
Is your son Adderall XR deficient? My point being - is it helping and what are the side effects?
If you and Bill are open to looking into something that might make a difference in his life you need to look at this website www.mannapages.com/pjhansen and research the products. Everyone who uses these products sees extremely positive results.
This might be the answer to helping your son with his social struggle and get him away from prescription drugs (which I think Adderall is). Thanks for sharing.
P.

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C.K.

answers from Minneapolis on

I would separate your son's shyness from his ADHD. They are 2 separate issues. My brother has ADHD and he can walk into a room of strangers and have everyone engaged in conversation or jokes within minutes.

Is HE bothered by the fact that he doesn't have a lot of friends? He may be very introverted, which is completely normal and often misunderstood. ("Party of One: A Loner's Manifesto" is a great book about introverts.)

I was shy as a child, and now less so as an adult. I can tell you from my childhood experiences that pushing your son into activities he doesn't care for, or forcing him to be more social than he naturally is, is only going to make him feel horrible and out of sorts. My parents fretted about my lack of friends, and I can tell you I was actually quite happy as a child. I was always mature for my age, and it took until high school for my maturity and my classmates to "align". Before then, I was happy just to read or do another solo activity.

You did say that kids come over to your son's house when they are invited. I'm assuming that these are kids near his own age. At 12 or so, kids don't hang out with people they don't like, so it IS a good sign that kids will come over.

And remember, his classmates are just a handful of people in this great, big world. Just because he hasn't "clicked" with the 30 or so kids in his class doesn't mean he won't have meaningful relationships later on.

Also, you mention he has "peer issues" and trouble with social skills, but what exactly does this mean? Is he rude to other kids? Does he have bad table manners? Is he unable to "engage"?

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J.G.

answers from Milwaukee on

I'd be careful about any assumptions that a need to develop social skills = Aspergers. That disorder is much more complex. If you don't see more symptoms of that disorder, then you don't need to worry about it. Also, do not abruptly discontinue his medication. Instead, if at some point you decide a change or end to medication is needed, he would need to transition under the supervision of his prescribing physician. Just stopping could be dangerous. When Adderall is too strong, it can make a child more quiet/serious. To decide if that could be happening, observe whether he is qualitatively different that way while medicated. If he is also shy after it wears off, then the medication is not the issue.

Since your son has not been "regularly invited," then if there were times he was invited, but not invited again, do your best to find out what happened. We once had a boy over who had untreated ADHD. He broke a window within 10 minutes! Another child broke a coffee table in a single, impulsive move. Sometimes the reasons are much more subtle, so you may need to gently inquire of other Moms, if possible. Just being shy does make a person harder to get to know, so perhaps that alone is the reason.

Sometimes Adderall XR wears off by the end of the school day. If symptoms arose again that bothered others, he may need a mild 'booster' after school. This has helped my son tremendously, so that he can complete homework, pay attention during extracurricular music instrument lessons, and participate successfully in after-school activities.

1- help your son realize that shyness is a choice, and not a helpful one. Many people don't understand this, but once I did, I was able to break out of my own shell and help my children, too. He is preventing people from getting to know the wonderful him, and they don't have the chance to discover what they like about him. No doubt, some people will like him, some not. That's the way it is. But if he doesn't get in the game, he'll never find the people who do!

2- because your son is already 12, I would hurry up and look for a social skills group. A group offers the chance to observe and practice skills. Your son will likely find this uncomfortable, but that is the point- he needs to expand his comfort zone. Try to have him buy into the vision of himself as being a whiz at the social stuff, and be sure he knows it can be learned & practiced, like anything else. It might help reduce the fight you might get about showing up for group.

3- don't give up! Social skills are the strongest predictor of success in life. By helping him now, he will be able to interview for a job competently, give presentations as often as needed, etc. If teachers are mentioning it, then this is huge and needs attention. It's a hard thing to tell a parent, plus busy teachers miss more subtle social difficulties. Emphasize to your son the importance of both being able to participate and be social, and be comfortable just watching. He's got one of those down, now time for the other!

4- keep communication going between yourself and your son. One of the things that caused my son to back off socially around that age was the poor choices peers were making. He wanted to keep his distance from vandals, drug experimentation, etc. It is a hard age to avoid that stuff!

5- help your son understand that there are all kinds of friends, and that he needs a bunch! One friend cannot be there all the time, and the unfair burden will drive people away because of the neediness. Instead, point out how your own friends fit in your life, i.e. a gardening friend great to work with, a workout buddy, a church friend who volunteers with you, etc. Articulate some things that you find attractive about different people, i.e., my friend, ___, is the BEST when it comes to going out to movies, she sure can pick them! But when I am feeling low, it is ___ who seems to brighten my spirits. This will help your son learn not to expect a single person to be the "perfect" friend- something he will never find. It will also help him be a better spouse someday, as he will learn not to rely on one person for all his needs.

6- get some support for yourself! You mentioned that this is taking a toll on you, so please take good care of yourself. Exercise, get your nutritional & rest needs met, and try to 'let go' of the struggle. That idea is very hard- it was for me, but I had to do it. The thing is, the emotional struggle didn't help my kids when they had trouble. It is hard to articulate this, but if I "struggled" or "stressed" in response to things, they actually felt less free to talk to me & seek my help- to protect me or not be a burden, etc. What I had to learn was how to listen and problem solve with them, without "riding the roller coaster." Instead, it's more like... I can watch the roller coaster without getting on it, and from this perspective I am in a better position to see where that coaster is heading, and if diversionary tactics are needed. heh... I hope that is somewhat clear. I also tried harder to figure out when they just needed to share vs. needed help. Sometimes I was too quick to jump into problem solving mode. Now I ask, "what do you think you might try?" If they need ideas, they will tell me. It has helped. I also focus on my blessings, my ADHD son being right up there at the top! He is a wonderful kid.

An organization like CHADD might also be able to help you find a local group with other Moms who have children with ADHD. I also enjoy relaxation/meditation stuff. It helps me be able to just watch when my son gets hyped, without going there myself! I started with a 'stress reduction' class, now I just use the techniques on my own, and occasionally pick up a new CD.

I hope this helps. Good luck with your son!

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D.N.

answers from Minneapolis on

Hi T., I would suggest inviting a friend or two over from his class so the boys can get to know each other in a smaller group. If he knows the boys outside of school he might be able to talk to them at school too. I have 5 children, One of them is an 18 year old with asperger's syndrom and ADHD. He has a twin brother who would bring friends home and then Tim could get to know them and then they were okay. He had a hard time greeting people and knowing what to talk about. Teaching your son to say Hi and smile sometimes helps. Good Luck

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J.T.

answers from Minneapolis on

You may want to look further into his ADHD diagnoses. We have a son whos is 10 who was incorrectly diagnosed with ADHD and he truely has Asperger's Sydrome. Aspergers has many more social issues connected with it and your son's school would be able to help with some specialized social skills applications.

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K.S.

answers from Minneapolis on

Hi,
This isn't social related, but you might try some nutritional supplements. There is a great vitamin called Mighty Mins by NutriSpec. They have a study done on the vitamins regarding ADD/ADHD. I carry them in my store in Member Perks under Health/General and the study is shown if you want to read it. The Special Needs Store.

Good luck,
K.

K.C.

answers from Davenport on

You might look into a diagnoses for Asburgers as well as into a change of medication. Strattera worked really well for my son at that age and friends of his who also had ADHD also seemed to do better on Strattera during puberty age.

You might also look into Sensory Integration Problems as this has a tendancy to go hand in hand with ADHD (not always but enough that it should be looked into as a possibility) and can cause Asburger type symptoms (all 3, ADHD, Asburgers, and Sensory Prob's all fall under the Autism umbrella). There is treatment out there for Sensory Prob. My son also has Sensory Problems and as long as he treats it himself (he's 16 now, old enough to manage it on his own and he insists) his ADHD doesn't seem to be much of a problem and he is medication free (not everyone will be so lucky, but if it helps to reduce the amount of medication taken, or prevent an increase, it's worth looking into in my opinion).

Once you've taken him in for a re-evaluation, talk to his school counselor, they can recommend a current program for him at school that can help with social issues (and medical issues) or at least direct you to a program that can help him such as an after school program. If there isn't one, then work with them closely to help establish one because there are sure to be other children who are having the same trouble as your son who could also use some extra help. Too many times parents underestimate the schools ability and willingness to help when often the school is simply waiting for an involved parent to step up. My sons schools (Jr. High in a big city and High School in a small town) are more than willing to work with us and now that my son knows what his options are, he is better able to manage it on his own and when he needs a little extra, his teachers are great at prompting him to utilize what he needs to so that he can stay focused and non-disruptive in class. Don't be afraid to look into things, try things, etc. until you find what works best for your son. It'll be the best thing you could ever do for him....by helping him learn how to manage and adjust as needed will lead him to greater independance and a more enjoyable life all around.

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S.S.

answers from Milwaukee on

The "Y" has a great summer camp for ADD/ADHD. It teaches the kids social skills, etc. Then the kids get together after summer as a peer group. It's awesome. It's a day thing, not an overnight thing. Good Luck.

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L.S.

answers from Sioux Falls on

Tammy,

Have you tried modeling a way to introduce himself to friends? Practice making friends or inviting himself to join a group. Have him pretend you are someone he wants to play with and coach him through the process. Ask him what things he is interested in and if he knows someone in his class/grade/bus or whatever that likes the same thing. Encourage him to make 1 effort each day and ask him the results when he gets home. Ask him to explain who he asked and what they both said.

L.

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L.B.

answers from Hickory on

Does HE want to be more outgoing and have more friends. You and he are perfect just the way you are. Relax, enjoy and go with the flow. Have confidence and faith that he will make new friends when he is ready and it will be a true and natural friend. My son also has ADHD I have him on Pine Tree Bark and Vitamin C in addition to his daily vitamins.

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L.C.

answers from Minneapolis on

Tammy -

I have a son who is 10 years old and was diagnosed with ADHD in Kindergarten. He also had social issues as well. We started having him see the school social worker once a week to work on how to make friends and how to keep them. After about 6 months of working with him he started bringing one friend to the social worker with him. By the end of the year he was invited to his first birthday party sleep over. He has a lot of friends now at school at it is great.

This past spring we took him off of his medication and changed his diet to no preservatives and no additives along with taking him to a chiropractor on a monthly basis and he also sees a homeopath. Life is great now, I never thought life would be this good.

I hope this helps and good luck

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A.M.

answers from Eau Claire on

Tammy,

Sorry to hear about your situation. Shyness can be difficult and I wonder if the medication is aiding in preventing him from reaching out for friends. If you are interested in natural vitamins, grapeseed and omega-3 products that are more effective than prescriptions, it may be the time to get off those drugs that he doesn't have to be on the rest of his life. You really do have options that are safer.

[email protected]____.com

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L.H.

answers from Milwaukee on

I have a 13 year old who had ADHD as well. She was always shy and aloof. Find what he likes and if there is groups in the area that like the same thing, encourage him to join and participate. I have to say that my child didn't have a lot of friends who called either, but she has recently started to blossom a little. She is getting more social and participating in stuff more. She is still aloof and shy not wanting to try things that she does not know or is unsure of.
Are there support groups in the area for ADHD parents. If so I would suggest joining.

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L.G.

answers from Iowa City on

My son (8) also had ADD and Asperger's however the Asperger's diagnosis came just this year. He has been on meds for 3 years although we have never tried Adderal. I am surprised your son has been on it for 5 years-has he been growing at a normal rate? My son has struggled with the social part of life as well. Last year I enrolled him in a social skills class which he very much enjoyed however it was terribly expensive. In August 2007 he began going to play therapy once a week with a therapist and this has been the most helpful! They do role playing (turn taking, conversations, etc.) and he has made tremendous progress this year. My son has never been invited to another child's house. It is hard on him when he sees his sister two years younger getting invited for play dates and talking about all of her friends. I have always told him you only need one good friend and someday that friend will come along and he will know when that time comes. I try to talk with him before bed asking him about his day and such. It's good practice. My son also has sensory processing disorder (diagnosed this year) and gets easily overwhelmed by highly stmulating situations. If your son likes to keep to himself he may be trying to cope with too much noise (lunchrooms are the hardest places to be). Has he had an OT eval? My son attends OT once a week also and she is helping him with several issues; widening his food choices (he tends to only want to eat pizza, pasta, tortillas and cheese with all of it), building his muscle tone (he does not have good upper body strength thus he has poor writing skills, slouches and falls a lot), and improving his ssensory intergration (he doesn't like being close to people, noisy crowded places, etc.). Really, it has helped too. I hope I have maybe offered suggestions. The school counselor may be able to help as well.

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A.R.

answers from Minneapolis on

It's funny - we think that if kids don't invite our kids over to play it's because they are not well-liked. Actually, in this culture people don't really reach out to children outside their neighborhoods. I have a well-adjusted, non-ADHD girl who is 13. Although she wasn't getting invited over to other kids houses, I encouraged her to invite people she liked over to ours knowing how slowly Jr. High relationships will form.

She has invited several friends over -and a couple of times a few - to a good end. She now has girls she can talk to in school even if they don't get together outside of school all that often.

Social skills and courage are not mutually exclusive. Boys don't tend to reach out to one another, which is a problem right through to adulthood. ADHD does not impede a boy from liking another boy - boys just don't care how crazy another boy is if he is fun.

Your son will develop the courage to interact with his peers at school over time, and in the mean-time you can invite kids over to play. Don't worry about his "social skills". Kids develop them by mirroring their peers. Your son spends 7 hours each day at school - one day soon he will decided what he wants to be like and will begin.

Let go and have play dates. By the time he is in high school he will have one good friend, a few good friends, or lots of them depending on the decisions he makes. He may not be destined to be Homecoming King, but he will adjust to this social life over time.

You can let go now knowing that most boys who know each other exclusively from school don't really bond until they are 14-16 anyway.

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S.S.

answers from Minneapolis on

Hi Tammy,

I am a music therapist and work on social skills routinely in my work. I would recommend that you see what other groups or activities that he might feel successful in (since he may not feel very confident in baseball). Have you tried Boyscouts, church/awana type groups, band/choir etc. He might do better in smaller group settings. In the schools Occupational Therapists typically work on social skills and have structured social groups. You could check with his teacher to see if something like that would be available so he can have social skills modeled and addressed in a "safe" setting. I hope this helps!

S.
Music Therapist-Board Certified

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L.G.

answers from Minneapolis on

I found a couple interesting long-term side effects for Adderall here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amphetamines

The short term effects seem to be what you would want for your child, but the long term effects don't seem so promising. That's why when it comes to drugs, I "just say no". However, do what you think is best for your child. I would only encourage you to do as much self-educating as you can as to the nature of these drugs. I'm not saying the drugs are wholly responsible, but the reason we take drugs is to alter our behavior (in this case, right?) and anytime we mess with nature in this way, we can probably expect side effects. I wish you clarity of mind when seeking the best option for your son. All the best.

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D.S.

answers from Green Bay on

My son, who is 11, is also ADHD. Children with ADHD often have social issues, so this is quite common. My son is also quite shy, so I can definitely relate. For a while, we took him to see a counselor for the specific reason of helping him develop his social skills. She worked with him on situations that he would encounter at school and they "praticed" how to respond. It worked well and I was happy we did this. My son is still pretty shy, but at least now he is more comfortable in a group setting. You may also want to have his doctor do a simple anxiety checklist at his next check-up. Another common disorder seen in people with ADHD is anxeity issues. Coupling that with the fact that he is shy, he may not only be uncomfortable in group settings, he may worry about how he is suppose to act and even fear being around other people.

Another thing I have done to further his social skills is to involve him in many activities that involve groups. The more he is around group settings, the more comfortable he may become in these situations. If not sports, how about a church group, a camp, or just organizing "boys nights" at your home a couple of times a month with kids in his class. I love having kids to my house because I get to know the people he sees on a regular basis and I get to meet their parents as well. If he doesn't feel comfortable taking the first step, as a parent, organizing events for him or putting him in activites may be quite helpful.

Last, but certainly not least, as a family with a strong Christian background, I truly believe in the power of prayer! I pray for my children daily and I am often very specific about the things I want for my children. God is amazing and blesses those who seek him! We have gotten our son involved in small group Bible studies with kids his age at church and have seen great things come from this! We are regular church goers and we love that our church has separate activites and services for our children. It really helps them bond with other kids their age.

Good luck and hopefully this has been helpful (sorry it was so lengthy).

D. (mom of three beautiful and energetic children!)

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J.G.

answers from Milwaukee on

Hi Tammy,

Our son was the same way.

He struggled with making friends. He always hung out with adults. He was on the adderall too. Then he fell into a state of depression and the doctor put him on Wellbutrin for the depression.

He hated the bus rides. We didn't know why, but we found out that the kids teased him. Our daughter who is very outspoken started middle school and started riding the same bus, that's how we found out. Talk about tears rolling. I just wanted to get on that bus and teach those kids a lesson. Or have a talk with their parents! (They would sit behind him and tap their pencils on his head. And our son would just ignore them) But our daughter took care of them! Like I said she's a little outspoken!

It was about 8th or 9nth grade that he started making friends. It started out with just one friend. But he's a good one. Yes they have there squabbles, but today they are both 21 and going to college.

Unfortunately these kids have to learn how to build their own skills. I did everything I could to get him involved in things, but he didn't want to. I got him in football and he was so excited he would be a half hour early for practice. Unfortunelatly the coach was more interested in winning than lettin the kids have fun. So Justin was on the bench alot. He didn't care he was just glad to be a part of the team.

It was out of the blue when he asked if he could have some guys from school stay over night. We were so excited, we bought pizza, soda, video games, movies, just to keep them having fun!

He still gets left behind every now and then from the friends he has today. They don't understand why he's so quiet. But he deals with it in his own way. He's okay with himself. He knows we are here for him.

If you want to talk about it, give me a call or better yet, e-mail me and we can set up a time. It was a struggle back then. And it still is today. But he's a big boy. They don't mess with him so much anymore.

Best wishes & just let him know he's loved,

J.

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S.E.

answers from St. Cloud on

I am a teacher and I have a suggestion if your son fits any of the following criteria: Does he take things very literally? Does he tend to overeat sometimes till he throws up? Does he seem to do better with animals than people? Is he inappropriately affectionate for his age? Does he often go off by himself and avoid large groups of people? If any of these things are clicking, he could have Asperger's Syndrome, which is a type of autism. If you suspect any of these traits please talk to his school about testing him, or you can have him tested through your doctor. Social issues are the biggest sign that it could be this so if you suspect this please check into it. 75% of undiagnosed kids with Asperger's Syndrome commit suicide before age 17 because they feel so misunderstood.
If none of this sounds like your son, I hope I didn't waste your time. You can always ask your son's teacher to send home written (or call) with different issues or actual situations so that you can role play or talk through different things he can do or say in the future when things like that happen. I hope this helps, good luck!

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M.A.

answers from Milwaukee on

Hi,

I don't have a child with ADHD, but my mom has it, and I am diagnosed juvenille onset bi-polar so I have a little experince from the flip side. Does your son express a desire to be more social? If he does, than you should follow some of the great advice given already. But maybe he is ok with how he is, and doesn't really want to interact with many kids at school right now. When I was growing up I would always rather have read books or done art or play music than hang out with other children at school. They teased me, and I could not understand the things they found enjoyable at all. The times my mother forced me to go to other's homes or to have other girls over was always miserable for me. Maybe he is ok just hanging out by himself. Does he have any interests or hobbies he particularly enjoys or is good at? Try to focus on developing those skills.
One interesting point brought up by another member is that social interaction is a good predictor of success, or something to that end. I think she is right in that he will eventually need to learn how to manage dealing with other people in a work situation. However, if he is very bright and has many interests, he will probably find his way in life thorough a career in academics like science, math, or engineering. I still lack the personal interaction skills required for a retail or business career; however I am an excellent scientific researcher. In addition, I meet other people who are more like myself in that field--including my husband! We even have a few friends that we get together with sometimes, and a beautiful child who does not exhibit ANY of our social misfit tendencies!
It is difficult to be a child with skills other than those valued by today's society. It must also be difficult to raise that childto be happy and self-confident in this society. If he is doing well in school, and happy doing his own thing I would say you should keep up with what you are doing and things will fall into place for him. Good luck.

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C.Q.

answers from Minneapolis on

HI. I have a son with ADHD that is 10 years old. He has social skills problems and making friends is really hard for him as well. When he was younger (2-4 yrs old) he was quite outgoing with new children he would meet on the playground and when he started school we noticed he began to have more difficulty getting along with other school age kids. He has participated in group sports, yet he does not get the team spirit concept. He plays as if it is a one man show. It has not been natural for my son to collaborate with others. School and competitive environments are not comfortable places for my son. He struggles academically and has some anxiety in communicating in public places.

What is clear to his family is that he needs more time in a "safe", and comfortable environment to get to know other children. Having friends over to the home has been a good thing. You may want to try inviting a friend over to play.
You can create an atmosphere of fun and relaxation for the boys to get to know each other better. Having snacks and refreshments available and easy games to play makes it low key. Joining in with playing games is advised, however let your son and his friend decide if that's ok. By you joining in you can model conversation starters and good relationship skills. I do not pressure my son to change who he is, instead I encourage him to share with others his interests and hobbies. I think helping him develop hobbies that others would enjoy sharing with him is important too. My son is interested in making models of WWI and WWII planes. Give some new hobbies a try. Just remember, not everyone has the natural ability to be popular and extroverted. That is ok. Your son will find others that get to know him and like him for not being outgoing.

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