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ADHD Summer Survival Tips

How to keep ADHD kids happy and healthy all summer long. Plus, is summer the right time for a medication vacation?
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WebMD Magazine - Feature

When her son Anthony was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at age 6, Mary Robertson quickly became an amateur travel agent during his summer vacations.

She didn't have much of a choice. "One day Anthony came home hiding a handsaw behind his back because he had sawed down a neighbor's tree to see how old it was," recalls the oncology-nurse-turned-ADHD-patient-advocate. "I realized pretty quickly that to stay at home and not have something planned was not gonna work."

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Robertson's challenge is one all parents face, especially during the summer, and doubly so for those who have kids with ADHD, a behavioral disorder that affects about 2 million children in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md.

ADHD is marked by inattention, impulsivity, and/or hyperactivity, which means that children with the condition may act quickly without thinking; can't seem to sit still; will walk, run, or climb around while others are seated; and are easily sidetracked by what is going on around them. For these reasons, they may have difficulty at home and school, and in forming and maintaining relationships with their peers.

"During the summer, you have to have a plan. You can't just wake up in the morning without an itinerary, or [ADHD kids] will figure out things to get into," says the Lexington, Ky.-based mother of Anthony, now 20, and his sister Samantha, 17, who both have been diagnosed with types of ADHD. "The best thing you can do is to take them somewhere," she adds. "We have been to every park that there is. My son's kindergarten teacher even complimented me on the fact that Anthony was so worldly."

ADHD Summer Tip 1: Stress Structure

"If children with ADHD don't have a structured day or week, they can get into trouble because they may try to create stimulation for themselves in a way that might result in mischief," says Karen Fleiss, PsyD, co-director of the New York University Summer Program for Kids and an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at New York University in New York City. "Kids with ADHD can be sensation-seeking, careless, and more impulsive than children without this behavioral disorder."

Left on their own, "they may say 'Let's bake' and then get distracted, forget about it, and go outside and play," Fleiss adds. The result? You guessed it: a four-alarm fire.

Marshall Teitelbaum, MD, a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist in private practice in Palm Beach, Fla., agrees. "Kids with ADHD are more likely to get hurt over the summer than during the regular school year. There are a lot more accidents if a child is distracted or impulsive."

Adds Stephen Grcevich, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland: "They misjudge time, procrastinate, and test limits more."

That's why a regular routine is so important. "Kids with ADHD are a little less able than kids without ADHD to structure themselves, so they need a little more external support," says Joel L. Young, MD, a psychiatrist in Rochester Hills, Mich., and the founder and medical director of the Rochester Center for Behavioral Medicine.

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