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."
Getting any child up and out the door in time for school can be a trying experience, but if a child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), this process can make you want to pull your hair out.
Think about all that can go wrong: The backpack may not be where it was supposed to be or the dog may have literally eaten the homework. Suddenly, a child remembers he or she is supposed to bring something special to school or flat out refuses to wear a raincoat when it's monsooning. The list...
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
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