Back to School with ADHD: Interview with Dr. Patricia Quinn


Dr. Patricia Quinn, a developmental pediatrician in Washington, DC, took the time to briefly chat with me about back-to-school with ADHD. Dr. Quinn has been working with ADHD and learning disabilities for over 35 years. She is the author of over 20 books about ADHD for children, adults, and professionals. Dr. Quinn is the current director of the national Center for Girls and Women with ADD (ADHD).

How did you get started working with ADHD and childhood development?

I have always wanted to work with children with ADHD. In fact, when I started in the field, it was called Minimal Brain Dysfunction - this was in 1971. I have ADHD myself, and three of my four children have ADHD.

With the back to school season upon us, do you have any suggestions for parents of children with ADHD? Should a parent take any special steps before a child goes back into the grind of the school year?

ADHD symptoms persist 365 days a year. Structure and consistency are the most important things in the life of a child with ADHD. It is ideal for a child to get back to consistent bed times and routines. For parents who may have taken a child off of medication for the summer months, they should restart medication several weeks before school starts so the medications can have the full effectiveness before school starts.

How do you think the introduction of extended-release medication has changed the back-to-school transition?

In a survey we conducted, 94 percent of parents gave students medication during the school year, but parents were hesitant other times. 40 percent of parents were looking for more flexible treatment options. Longer-release medication was great for school hours, but some parents wanted options that may not last as long for weekends and vacations. Our survey showed us that parents had trouble with after-school behaviors as well - especially homework time. However, when considering long-release medication, talk to your doctor to ensure that you have the right treatment plan for your child's needs.

What are your thoughts on the medication vacation? Do you believe in medicating a child year-round?

Everything is case-by-case; that's the important thing. If the child is experiencing symptoms - ADHD doesn't just exist during school hours - we need to make sure it's consistently under control. A student can experience symptoms going to camp, dealing with family - it is not just in school. If a child's symptoms are interfering with some other activities, we should stay consistent with the medication route. As I said earlier, consistency can be very important when dealing with a child with ADHD.

Does the introduction of extended-release drugs to the market help create a more consistent environment for kids?

The longer acting formulations have given parents options - I find that parents still want some flexibility and control. They want to be part of the team and be involved when the symptoms arrive. Parents may not know about Daytrana, which uses a patch to deliver medication; it allows for flexible wear time. It can be removed where appropriate, which is a reflection of the varying duration of symptoms from one patient to another. Giving parents this information can help then make informed decisions - empowering the parents is the key.

How has the field changed in your 35 years in pediatrics? Has ADHD become more common, more diagnosed, more easily identified, worse/better, etc?

Over the years several things have changed; we've changed our focus. We don't just focus on hyperactivity - we focus on attention. We look at different populations, adolescents, adults, girls, etc. The other big change is the long-acting treatment options, as mentioned. It helps with consistency in regulating symptoms.

Thanks again to Dr. Patricia Quinn for taking the time to speak with me today. Please visit her website - - if you would like more information about her work with ADHD.