Raising a Child With ADHD: Medication During the Summer Months

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • From the time my son was just a toddler, as a mother, I had concerns over some of his behaviors.  I remember taking him to the doctor when he was not quite two and asking about hyperactivity.  The doctor felt my son was a “highly active child.”  From that point on, I questioned his activity level, his lack of sleeping patterns, his inability to sit still. Even when the other children in the day care seemed to be able to listen during story time, my son was wandering around, picking up toys, totally disinterested in what was going on in the room.  But over and over, physicians told me that his behaviors were within normal levels for his age and that there was nothing to worry about.  
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    Throughout the next ten years, my son was referred to the school psychiatrist, the school psychologist, and the guidance counselor and yet none seemed to feel there was a problem, until, at 12 years old he was diagnosed with ADHD.  In some ways, the diagnosis helped, as it let me know that I had been right all along.  It gave a name to the actions that I knew were not “normal.”  But in other ways, the diagnosis brought even more questions.  Did I do anything wrong?  How could this have happened?  What do I do now?  

    At that time, there was a limited amount of information available on ADHD.  There were books, of course, but there was also a great deal of conflicting information.  Television shows claimed that ADHD was a fictitious condition and that medication was making children into zombies.  Some doctors believed that the diagnosis was real, but was over-diagnosed and so they were hesitant to provide medication or give a definitive diagnosis, instead adopting a wait-and-see attitude.  Some teachers were not much help, insisting that he would grow out of it, arguing that boys matured slower than girls.  Some teachers were not even familiar with the term ADHD.  

    As a parent, this was immensely frustrating.  I had been given a diagnosis and medication and told that behavioral strategies such as charts worked well.  But that was about all the information I had to go on.  I didn’t know what to do or how to do it; all I had was my determination to help him.  I searched for parent support groups but only found two, the closest 45 minutes from my home.  With school work taking hours each evening, taking hours one evening a week to attend a support group so far away just wasn’t an option.  But still, I needed information, not just from medical professionals, but from other parents, those that had experience, those that had similar problems.  I needed to know what to do and how to do it.  I needed someone to talk to that would understand.  I needed to know that I wasn’t alone.  

    The internet became my research medium and evening after evening, I sat and looked up information on ADHD.  I talked to other parents in discussion groups.  To my amazement, there were so many other parents in the same position.  There were so many other parents asking the same questions as I was.  There were so many parents feeling worried, isolated and ashamed.  Using my background as a writer, I dedicated myself to helping others and myself.  I began to take the information I was learning and created a website for parents in an effort to educate parents and to help them find solutions to everyday problems.  It astonished me when I began receiving emails from parents around the world, thanking me for my efforts and asking questions.  Writing about ADHD became my new mission in life, letting others know they are not alone, that there are ways to help themselves, help their children and help their families.  

  • One question I have been asked, as well as wondering myself, was what to do about medication during the summer months.  Do children need a break from medication or should they take medication every day, even during school breaks?
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    After many discussions with parents and doctors, as well as reading various articles on the subject, there seem to be three distinct thought patterns on medication during school breaks:

    1. Medication for ADHD should be taken on an as-needed basis. Medications for ADHD are short acting.  This means that they do not require a build-up in your system to be effective.  They work similar to pain medication in this regard: during the time they are active, symptoms will be lessened.  Once the medication wears off, the symptoms will return.  Based on this, medication can be taken only when needed.  It can be taken to help during school or during summer activities that would require sustained attention.
    2. Medication for ADHD should be discontinued during school breaks. Side effects of medications for ADHD include loss of appetite and delayed growth.  “Vacations” from medications might allow children to catch up on weight gain and growth. 
    3. Medication is needed to control symptoms of ADHD all during the year.  ADHD is not a school time disorder.  It impacts many aspects of a child’s life, including social, emotional and family life.  Medication for ADHD helps to lessen symptoms that may create behavioral problems.  Taking medication consistently will help to eliminate behavioral difficulties during the summer months.  It will allow them to maintain friendships and participate in family and social activities without having additional difficulties associated with impulsiveness or underdeveloped social skills.

    The decision of whether your child will continue with medication over the summer months is a personal one, and should be decided after a discussion with your physician.  There are, however, some things you may want to take into consideration:

    1. Think about when your child has the most trouble.  Do they have difficulties in school and with homework but seem to do okay in the evenings after medication has worn off?  Are problems associated with inattention rather than impulsiveness?
    2. Are there days when your child forgets to take medication?  Do they get into trouble more often at those times?  Are evenings after medication wears off exhausting, with one behavioral problem after another?
    3. How does your child react in social situations?  Are they able to keep friends and get along with others in group situations?  Does your child act impulsively or seem to not have any consideration for others when in a group?  Does your child play well with friends?
    4. Will your child be attending a summer camp or sports where sustained attention will be important?  Does your child have difficulty following directions or listening to instructions?
    5. Will your child be learning a new skill or attending classes during the summer when focus and concentration are needed?
    6. Does your child show signs of aggression or defiance? 
    Using the answers to these questions, discuss with your physician what would be best for your child and your family.  Whether you decide to continue, discontinue or use medication on an as-needed basis for the summer, your doctor should be made aware of your decision. 
Published On: May 30, 2007