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Conditions That Complicate Management

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a specific developmental condition with a defined set of characteristics. Although a varied spectrum of severity exists, children with ADHD demonstrate a consistent and typical pattern of behavior and neurological function.

 
However, this “pure”@ picture is often complicated by the presence of other developmental or emotional dysfunctions. Several co-morbid conditions are described by professionals working with A DHD children.

 
Common Co-Morbid Conditions
Let’s look at some of the more common co-morbid conditions which may exist with ADHD:

 
Language-based learning disabilities. Central language processing disorders can mimic, and certainly complicate, the expression of attention disorders. For decades clinicians and educators have observed a significant overlap between children with ADHD and various language-based learning disabilities. As recently as two decades ago, professionals in the field tended to lump children with these related developmental disabilities together into the diagnostic category of minimal brain dysfunction. Attention, hyperactivity, and language-processing disorders were thought to be different ends of the continuum within this diagnosis. Recently the trend is to define the various diagnostic categories more precisely.

 
While many children with ADHD have no evidence of language-based learning disability, there are many children in which ADHD and a learning disability co-exist. I have seen children who have gone for years without treatment for their ADHD because all their academic problems were blamed on their language dysfunction. The attention problems and poor organization were thought to be secondary. On the other hand, I know of children who have not received serious evaluation of their reading and spelling under-achievement because their poor grades were blamed on their attention deficit disorder. When a child has been diagnosed with either ADHD or language processing dysfunction, the child should be carefully observe for evidence of the other condition.

 
Oppositional Defiant Disorder. While children with ADHD may disobey and at times seems to resist discipline, they are not typically defiant. Their lack of compliance is most likely due to impulsiveness and failure to think before they act. They also have difficulty associating their behaviors with consequences. But they want to please and tend to be unhappy with their failure to live up to expectations.

 
Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is characterized by a pattern of negative, hostile, and defiant behavior. Children with this disorder easily lose their temper, purposely annoy others, openly defy authority, refuse to comply with rules, and argue often. They may be resentful, angry, spiteful, and vindictive. ODD is defined by a pattern of such behavior over a long period which is not due to temporary stresses or provocations. Oppositional defiant disorder is more common in males. Over time ODD is likely to be associated with low self-esteem, low frustration tolerance, temper outbursts, poor peer relationships, and school underachievement.

 
Conduct Disorder. Children with conduct disorder exhibit a basic disregard for the rights of others and ignore age-appropriate norms of behavior. They may be cruel to other people and animals, fail to respect others rights (i.e., steal, misuse property), and ignore common rules of conduct. This pattern of behavior exists over a long period of time. It significantly disrupts the child’s relationships and adjustments to common life situations such as home and school.

 
Poor school performance, a greater frequency of school suspensions, and incidence of substance abuse are seen in children and adolescents with conduct disorders. These dysfunctional behaviors may begin in middle childhood but become more prominent in adolescence.

 
! Tourette’s Syndrome. Tourette’s syndrome (or Tourette’s disorder as it is sometimes called today) is characterized by the onset during childhood of multiple tics of various kinds (both motor tics and vocal tics) which may fluctuate in severity. The currently accepted essential diagnostic criteria include onset before the age of 21 years, multiple involuntary motor tics, one or more vocal tics, the waxing and waning of the tics, the gradual replacement of old tics with new ones, the absence of other medical explanations for the tics, and the presence of tics for more than one year.

 
Along with the tics, there may be obsessive compulsive tendencies, excessive anxiety, sleep disorders, learning difficulties, and impulsive behaviors. A variety of behavior/emotional problems have been identified in children with Tourette’s syndrome. Whether these behavioral problems are related to tic severity, a direct consequence of having a stigmatizing condition or an underlying part of the developmental condition is not clearly delineated.
ADHD has been reported to occur in 35% to 65% of children with Tourette’s syndrome. The treatment of children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder with co-morbid Tourette’s syndrome is controversial. The major confounding factor is that stimulant medications may provoke or intensify the tics. The stimulants do not cause the tics but if a child is predisposed to tics, the use of the stimulants may hasten the expression of tics, or aggravate them when they are present. While the stimulants may help the child with ADHD and Tourette’s, they should be used with caution.

 
If behavior and educational approaches are not successful for the child with Tourette’s and ADHD, then a trial with other types of medication should be considered.

 
Depression. It is well know that psychological depression is the most common emotional disorder affecting adults. The fact that depression is also very common in children and adolescents is less well known. Pre-teens and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to some degree of depression even under the best of circumstances. The child living with the stresses of ADHD are even more vulnerable. The frustration due to having to work harder to keep up academically, the constant negative feedback that is all too common and the difficulty getting along with peers sets the child up for depression. The usual low self-esteem experienced by many children with ADHD underlies their vulnerability.

 
Signs that suggest depression are a sudden drop in grades and performance in other activities such as sports or music. The depressed child or adolescent will tend to be moody and easily frustrated. They seem sad and have more trouble enjoying things they have enjoyed in the past. They often will withdraw and be less able to cope socially.

 
Depression in children and adolescents is likely to be a reaction to circumstances and come on over a short period of time. Chronic, long-term depression is less common.

 
This reactive depression is probably the most common co-morbid condition seen in children with ADHD. Fortunately, depression is also the most effectively treated of all the co-morbid conditions. Recognition, counseling, and sometimes short-term antidepressant medication will usually overcome the depression fairly quickly.

 
These are some of the more common co-morbid disorders. If is important to look for such conditions as a child is evaluated for ADHD. When they exist, success depends on managing the ADHD and co-morbid condition together.

ADHD Associated With Early Death

Individuals diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADHD) are at a higher risk of dying young, usually as the result of automobile crashes and other accidents. This is the conclusion from the largest study to date on the relationship of ADHD and mortality. This study, an analysis of nearly 2 million Danish medical records, The presence of related disorders such as drug abuse, or oppositional disorder the odds of early death. The study also noted that the risk of early death is even higher in those diagnosed after age 18.

 

While increased morbidity and mortality due to trauma has been known for many years, this new study gives a more precise picture of the risks due to its large size.

 
Most experts feel that this increase vulnerability is due to the impulsiveness and perceptual deficiencies along with general delayed maturity seen in individuals with ADHD

 
The findings of this study should not cause panic in parents and caretakers of children with ADHD, it does point out the importance of early diagnosis and effective treatment of children and teens with ADHD .

 
Other studies furnish evidence that treatment with behavioral intervention, academic support and medication has the highest rate of success. (Seem previous editions of this blog for management and treatment recommendations.)

The Importance Of Reinforcement In The Learning Process

(For parent or teacher, this is a timely reminder.)

 
We hear, see and feel things that are kept in our awareness for a short period of time and then forgotten. These things are not really learned. In order for a stimulus to be committed to the long term memory and, therefore, learned, reinforcement must occur. Reinforcement is the process by which our conscious and unconscious mind is given a reason, or motivation, for committing a stimulus, thought, or concept to long term memory.

 
Reinforcement is a complex and highly varied process. One of the most significant reinforcers for children is the internal, built in drive to learn so characteristic of all children. Children innately want to learn about their world. A high percentage of all stimuli impinging on their senses is assimilated and committed to long term memory, i.e. learned. This innate drive to learn persists in children until it is turned off by some negative reinforcement.

 
Negative reinforcement occurs when learning is made unrewarding, unpleasant, boring, or anxiety provoking. Under such circumstances a child may begin to lose his internal motivation. For instance, the young child eagerly wants to talk with his parents and others about all the exciting things he is learning that the tree is tall, the sky is blue, that bugs crawl. If his enthusiasm is met with continual indifference, he eventually will grow less interested himself in learning. The first grader is usually ready to learn to read. But if he finds the effort confusing and frustrating and finds he is not making progress, learning to read becomes unrewarding and he eventually will quit trying.

 
The human mind has fantastic potential for learning, for absorbing facts, and making leaps into new concepts. Each child has this innate drive to learn from the time his eyes begin to explore the environment, to his reaching for a rattle, taking his first step, saying that first word, to exploring the world of physics. This internal reinforcer, to remain strong, needs to be supplemented with external reinforcement for maximum learning to occur. This external reinforcement may take many forms. Certainly among the most powerful reinforcers are the social ones such as recognition, encouragement, and praise.

 
The knowledge that actions on his part will get him something he wants, such as more free time, treats, money, or participation in a special activity, is a strong reinforcer.

 
Rewards must be immediate and tangible to the child to be effective. We should reward each little step toward the right goal, not wait to give one big reward for total perfection. As learning is reinforced, the material becomes more and more indelibly imprinted on the conscious and subconscious mind of the child.

 
Thus it is important to plan the learning disabled child’s curriculum so that he or she has the opportunity to experience academic, personal, and social success.

 
Here are some healthy ways we can use positive reinforcement in molding the child’s behavior:

a. Recognition
Recognition from family, friends, teachers, and other important people serves as a strong motivator. This may be done in many ways:
“Billy, I am so pleased that you were able to put your pants on by yourself.”
“Wally, you tied your shoes by yourself.”
“Sean, you answered every question. I am pleased.”

b. Encouragement
We all, children and adults, need to be encouraged.
“You are trying very hard with your art. Good job.”
“I like the way you picked your colors for this picture so carefully.”

c. Praise
Genuine praise for a job well done or a good effort extended is one of the greatest motivators.
“I appreciate the good job you did in putting the toys away.”
“I was very pleased by the way you behaved while we were waiting in line…”

d. Sense of accomplishment
The knowledge that one has done a job well, or learned something significant is itself, a powerful motivating force.

e. Material gain
The chance of personal gain is a definite human motivating factor although it is not always the most important. There are times and places for tangible rewards. But they are not always appropriate and in general are not as powerful as the social reinforcers discussed above. However, the knowledge that desirable actions on her part will get her something she wants such as treats, money, or time can be a significant reinforcer for a particular child.

 

As discussed previously, rewards, to be effective, must be immediate and tangible to the child. It does little good to tell a third grader that if she makes straight “A”s she will get a bicycle at the end of the year or that she will get a dollar for every “A” she has on her report card. Such a goal is too distant and intangible for most children.

 
More appropriately we could say, “Susan, complete the first five problems of your homework now then you can take a break and have a cookie and juice.” You give a small, immediate reward for one small step in the right direction and then repeat this process until the task is completed.
We should reward each little step toward the right goal, not wait to give one big reward for total perfection. As learning is reinforced, the material becomes more and more indelibly imprinted on the conscious and subconscious mind of the child.

 
What is most rewarding, or reinforcing, to a given child, will depend a great deal on what that child has learned to like. We should remember that the strongest reinforcer of all is success. Success breeds success. As the child is able to accomplish tasks and sense personal fulfillment, he wants to repeat this pleasant experience. Success reinforced by genuine appreciation and honest attention is powerful in molding behavior and learning.

Beware of the Help!

As a parent of a child with ADHD you are bombarded with advice and suggested help from every direction. As the prevalence of ADHD has become more known, a hoard of individuals and organizations has flooded the market with their own brand of “help.” Many of these ideas come from reputable and experienced sources. However, much of this advice and help come from groups pushing their own agenda.

So it is important for parents to carefully evaluate the advice and interventions they see on the internet, hear from friends or read in the mass media.

I would suggest that parents be wary of the following:

1. Any one offering a complete or, quick, cure. So far I have not found any “quick fix” for the developmental problems of kids with ADHD. Help is certainly available but it involves time, effort, and cooperation of many people. When fad treatments are latched onto, time as well as the family’s money, is often wasted.

2. Anyone pushing a method of treatment not known to the school personnel, your physician and other professionals in the community. You can be sure that your child’s teacher, principal and counselor as well as your pediatrician are interested in what the community has to offer. If there is someone or some program around which can help, one of these people you trust is likely to be aware of its existence. They are not likely to recommend a program that is worthless and expensive.

3. Anyone who pushes just one form of therapy. The strengths and weaknesses of each underachieving child are unique. No one treatment is a panacea for each of them. Most children will benefit from a variety of interventions—through special education, behavioral management, and maybe medical treatment. Most competent professionals will be open to any possibly effective technique.

As with all parenting advice, consider the source as well as the open and hidden expense of any suggested help you receive.

Teens with ADHD and Driving

It goes with the territory. All adolescents are at some increased risk of distracted driving. Those with ADHD are especially vulnerable. This fact was reinforced by a study published in the JAMA Pediatrics recently. “ADHD appears to impact specific driving behaviors,” according of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital researcher, Megan Narad, one of the authors of this study. “Both maintaining a consistent speed and central, consistent lane position require constant attention to the road and one’s surroundings,’ she added.

 

Such sustained attention is difficult for the person with ADHD.
The study involved adolescents aged 16 and 17 years with or without ADHD participating in a simulated driving class which monitored driving under various conditions. In conclusion, the study clearly demonstrated that both ADHD and texting while driving present serious risks to driving performance of teens.

 
Other studies have pointed out that teen drivers with ADHD are 8 times more likely to lose their license, 4 times more likely to be involved in a collision, 3 times more likely to sustain a serious injury and 2 to 4 times more likely to receive a moving vehicle violation. These risks are not surprising considering that the core symptoms of ADHD are inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity—all conditions that affect focus and concentration.

 

One encouraging finding in other studies is that treatment with stimulant medication at optimum levels improve driving performance of teens with ADHD in a significant way. Thus teens with ADHD who are driving should take their prescribed medication on a regular basis without holidays.

 

Other suggestions that can help the teen drive more safely are the following commonsense precautions:

 
Always wear a seatbelt
Never drink and drive
Never drive while sleepy
No cell phone use while driving
Pay attention to surroundings—be aware if traffic is slowing, etc.
Select a radio station or recording device (CD or MP3 player) before starting the trip
Know ahead of time the directions to your destination
No speeding, follow all traffic signs
Minimize night time driving
No tailgating
Inform parents of your destination and return time.

 
Other studies suggest that teens with ADHD may need more intense driver education. Also with many teens with ADHD, delaying driving for a year or two thus allowing more time for maturity to develop would be wise.

When the ADHD Medication Does Not Seem To Be Working

Most children and adults with ADHD have a positive response with few side effects to stimulant medication. It is estimated that up to 85 to 90% of properly diagnosed children with ADHD experience significant improvement in most areas of function with the stimulants. But there are times when the physician or therapist will hear the complaint that the “Medicine is just not working!”

Dr. David Rettew, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at University of Vermont, responds to this concern of medication failure in an article published in Pediatric News. In the article Dr Rettew reviews several reasons why medication may seem to be not working. Some potential causes are listed below in order of there frequency of occurrence:

1. The dose is too low. There is caution on the part of parents and clinicians when prescribing the stimulants. They wisely start off with a modest dose and push it up slowly or not at all. In fact the dose required for optimum effect varies from person to person. If the patient does not have side effects at the low dose, the dose can be increased gradually to the recommended range per weight. Many doctors and parents give up on a specific medicine before the appropriate dose is reached.

2. The medication is working but wears off early. Again, when the dose is too low, the meds might have an early beneficial effect but this positive response wears off by noon or early afternoon. This does not mean that the medicine is ineffective. It means that the doctor, parent, and patient need to modify the dose and method of taking it. First of all, it is important to make sure that the dose is at the optimal level. If the dose is adequate but the medicine effect still wears off early, it probably means that the patient metabolizes the medication more rapidly than the average person. One way of dealing with this is to have the patient take a small dose of short-acting meds after lunch.

3. Symptoms are caused by some condition other than ADHD. If the medicine is given at the proper dose with the proper timing and the patient still does not have improvement, it could mean that some other condition is causing the ADHD-like symptoms. Such conditions could be chronic sleep problems, anxiety, or other mental health disorder.

4. There is psychiatric co-morbidity. Conditions like anxiety disorder, oppositional disorder, or bipolar disorder can mimic ADHD or accompany ADHD. In this case, a thorough evaluation by a psychiatrist and/or psychologist is in order.

5. There is non-compliance. If the medicine is not working, it is important to consider that the patient is not taking the medicine as prescribed. This is often an issue with teens who are given the responsibility of taking their meds on their own without supervision.

6. There is substance abuse. If other psychoactive drugs are being abused by the patient, the benefit of the ADHD medication may be compromised.

7. The expectations of medication are too great. Some parents, even some therapists, expect the medication to be a miracle worker solving all the patient’s, and the family’s problems. While medication can at times be highly effect, it is never sufficient by itself. Issues like learning disability, anxiety, and low self-esteem will need ongoing attention to help the child reach his full potential. Although medication is helping a given patient, counseling for parents and the patient is highly recommended.

Successful medical treatment for ADHD requires openness and honesty and clear communication between parent, patient, and clinician in order to evaluate and deal with these complicating issues.

Successful Coping Strategies

Successful Coping Strategies

Adults with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder who have attained higher educational and professional status use a variety of strategies to cope with their disorder, a new study shows. The study was conducted by Robert D. Wells, Ph.D. and reported at the annual meeting of the Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics Society.

 

Thirty-one adults who responded to a newspaper advertisement seeking people with ADHD filled out several symptom, behavioral, and intelligence measures. They were interview about their compensatory strategies. The group aged 23 to 71, included 22 women. They could be considered highly motivated for completing the study and may represent a skewed sample, the researcher noted.
Those who were relatively more successful in their education and career were more likely to do the following:

 

Set up rituals to get through repetitive tasks.
Use lists to retain large amounts of information
Control impulsive behaviors by writing down their thoughts and talking them over with someone.
Choose jobs which have a variety of different tasks each day and that allow them to be in charge of themselves and their time but that still have structure and quotas.
Learn to delegate.

 

Some of the individuals listened to “white noise” in the background to help them concentrate. “One guy had the rule of three: He only allowed himself to work on three things at once,” said Dr. Wells, Director of Pediatric Research at Valley Children’s Hospital in Fresno, California.
Many of the less successful subjects could not identify any strategies they used to avoid distractions, to retain information, or to make themselves feel successful. Only nine per cent of the variability in success could be attributed to differences in intelligence, Dr. Wells added.
Ongoing studies of junior high students and prison populations should help determine how much of the difference in success is due to skills that might be taught and how much may be due to temperament and personality.

 

Most people with ADHD do not outgrow their ADHD. But as this study shows, they can learn compensatory tools. The subjects of this study point to the way in which successful people do compensate.

ADHD Can Persist Into Adulthood

Investigators in Rochester, Minnesota studied a large group of children born between 1976 and 1982. This group was followed from early childhood into adulthood (mean age 27 years at time of study). In this group, 232 subjects had been diagnosed with childhood ADHD. These 232 children were compared with 335 children without ADHD who served as controls. At the time of the study, the now adults were administered a variety of standardized neuro-psychiatric tests and interviews.

It was observed that ADHD persisted into adulthood in 29.3% of the individuals who had been diagnosed with childhood ADHD.

The participants who had childhood ADHD were more likely than controls (56% compared to 29%) to have one or more psychiatric disorders as adults. The most common co-morbid condition was alcohol dependence/abuse (26%). Additional diagnoses were other substance dependence/abuse conditions, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and major depression. Those with ADHD persisting into adulthood were much more likely to have one or more psychiatric disorder (80% vs. 47%).

Several take home lesions from this study:

First of all, most children with ADHD will have resolution by adulthood.

However, ADHD does persist in a significant number of individuals (30%).

ADHD does leave significant emotional scars in a high percentage of individuals who were diagnosed with childhood ADHD. This points out the need for those diagnosed with ADHD to have ongoing mental health care into adulthood with special attention paid to potential psychiatric disorders.

Those adults with persistent ADHD (30% of those with childhood ADHD) will need to have ongoing ADHD treatment and monitoring as adults for other mental health needs.

ADHD and Handwriting

Even in this day of thumb-driven Twitter shorthand, handwriting continues to be a critical and needed skill. Legible, coherent handwriting is a signal measure of academic success and still plays an important role in formal and informal communication.

 

Educators and other professionals working with children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have observed that many of these children have significant problems with handwriting.

 

A recent study coming out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) documents the relevance of these observations. This research, led by Slavica Katusic of the Mayo Clinic was published in Pediatrics (September, 2011). The study included 6,000 children—all those born in Rochester Minnesota between 1976 and 1982 and who was still living there after age 5.

 

Katusic and her co-workers evaluated school and medical records to see which children showed signs of ADHD, as well as how well they performed on writing, reading and general intelligence tests over their school career. A total of 379 children fit the criteria for ADHD. About 800 children scored poorly on tests of writing abilities, and most with writing problems had reading difficulties as well.

 

Writing problems were much more common in both boys and girls with ADHD, with close to two-thirds of boys with ADHD having problems with writing. That compared to one in six of their peers without ADHD. In girls, 57 percent with ADHD had a writing problem, compared to less than 10 percent without ADHD.

 

There are several reasons why children with ADHD may have problems in writing. Handwriting is a very complex task that involves cognitive activity and motor activity at the same time. A high level of mental coordination and sequencing is required—tasks that individuals with ADHD have difficulty with. Also, memory and planning problems may affect the writing process. The impairment in sustained attention experienced by children with ADHD causes them to loose track of what they are doing and they will tend to make careless errors and get confused about what is to come next in the phrase or sentence.t is my observation that when kids with ADHD are appropriately treated with medication, improvement in handwriting can be dramatic. In fact, improvement in handwriting can be one of the more objective, observable markers of effective treatment.

 

Kids who have problems with handwriting sufficient to interfere with their ability to express what they are learning can be allowed, even encouraged, to use other means of communicating what they are learning. For instance, a student may be allowed to give a report orally rather than in writing. Certainly in middle and high school the student can be encouraged to develop word processing skills and permitted to prepare homework and even classwork using the word processer. At the same time the student will need ongoing instruction and practice in handwriting. For some ADHD students, their handwriting will never be optimal but should be functional by high school.

At the same time, intentional instruction in handwriting skills is needed. The ADHD child may not develop perfect handwriting but writing skills can be enhanced with intervention. It is appropriate to help them be the best they an be in this area while compensating in other subjects. For instance their grade in science or math should not be knocked down due to messy or slow handwriting.

 

Long term observation does suggest that the writing problems do get a little better with increasing maturity. Individual education plans that address some of those related difficulties can help especially if they’re started early.

Medication in the Summer

A mom asks, “What should we do about medication in the summer-time? I have heard from some parents that they always discontinue their child’s medication during the summer. I asked my doctor what we should do and he said we could do whatever we wanted. So I am not sure. My child is active and disorganized all the time. I worry about him becoming frustrated. What do you recommend?”

This is a good question for this time of the year. Summer is right around the corner and many parents are wondering about the same issues your raise. At one time, it was assumed that the child would take stimulant mediation for attention problems and hyperactivity only during the school year. It was felt that the medication was primarily given to help with school.

The Physicians’ Desk Reference carries a recommendation that the child taking stimulants be given a “vacation” from his medication periodically. But does this mean that all children should interrupt their medical therapy for the summer?

The goal of the total treatment program for ADHD is to provide the framework in which an individual can perform up to his or her fullest potential. Medication, environmental structure, and behavioral management all play a part in maximizing a child’s function in any given situation.

The role of medication in this process varies with each individual. Thus, the answer about summertime medication must be evaluated individually. In this process, we should look at three major skill areas—academic, social, and behavioral.

An important reason for using medication is to promote focus and concentration in the learning environment. Studies have shown that children with ADHD learn better when taking their medication. Medical treatment also enhances the ability to use skills that have been learned. Therefore, the use of medication helps individuals function more appropriately in the many areas where they are continuing to practice and master skills, i.e., family, school, playgrounds, sports, reading, organization.

If, then, the child will be involved in activities during the summer which put demands on his need for concentration or organization (summer school, sports, special camps, etc.), medication may be helpful.

Special circumstances need to be considered. For instance, adolescents often take driver’s education during the summer. Teenagers with ADHD have a higher rate of moving traffic violations primarily due to being easily distracted and the longer time necessary to acquire skills. Teens with ADD may need more prolonged driving practice with their medication before they become safe and proficient drivers.

Building social skills is extremely important for the child with ADHD. “Summer involves more socializing and self-planning than does the school year,” the author points out. There is much more free time, much less adult supervision, and fewer structured settings to provide the usual external controls.

A large percentage of individuals with ADHD have difficulty acquiring and applying social skills. This is often seen as difficulty with peers and siblings when they are not taking medication. Some children will have much more difficulty dealing with these social situations without the medication due to persistence of impulsiveness and over-reactivity.

So in making a decision about taking a break from ADHD medication during the summer, consider these factors:

•Does the child find medication to be helpful in managing a routine day at home with family and friends?

•Without medication, are there many more negative social interactions leading to social failure, discipline problems, and lower self-esteem?

•Does the continuation of medication during the summer allow the family to successfully participate in activities together, such as going out to dinner, attending religious services as a family, or joining large family gatherings?

If the answers to these questions suggest that medication could be helpful during the summer, it would be wise to give it all summer.

But, then, there are certain reasons to consider a medication vacation:

If the child is experiencing significant loss of appetite with slow weight gain, a vacation from medication is in order. A few individuals on stimulant medications will have difficulty maintaining growth during the school year. In the vast majority of these children, this means poor weight gain. If there is concern about a child’s growth, the time to discontinue medication to allow necessary ‘catch up’ growth is during the summer. Most children will regain weight quickly.”

The second reason for taking a “medication vacation” is if the family and physician decide that during the summer, medication is truly not needed. Many individuals with ADHD can discontinue their medication in the non-academic setting, such as summer vacation, holidays, and weekends. But still find it necessary for the extremely intense focus required for the hours of concentration on school and studies.

I am often asked by parents about medication during the summertime. As we see, the answer to this question must be individualized for each child. I point out to parents that what happens in school is important for the child. But as far as his success and happiness in life is concerned, what happens at home and on the playground is even more important. Thus if the child is having problems in his social and family relationships, continuation of medication is probably helpful. Actually, there are several optional courses of action: continue the medication on the same schedule as during the school year, stop the medication all together, or consider a reduced medication schedule.

When there is some question as to how the child will do off medication, I suggest giving a break for the first two weeks of summer. If the child does well, then it is appropriate to continue without medication for the remainder of the summer. If the child has trouble coping with the ordinary activities of his summer during this trial period, then restart the medication.

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