By Renee Colclough Hinson, Ph.D., Staff Psychologist at Trinity Center
Are you counting down the days until school starts? By the middle of summer vacation, you may be, especially if you have a child with ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). Organizing non-structured summer days and keeping boredom at bay is a challenge for anyone! Children with ADHD and their characteristic difficulties with inattentiveness, over-activity, impulsivity (or a combination of these) have an even harder time with a lack of structure.
Symptoms of ADHD
The child with ADHD can appear to be intentionally rude or unruly, causing his/her parent to think, “How many times do I have to tell him/her not to interrupt, grab things out of people’s hands or yell when told “no”…” and why does he/she never seem to listen when they are being talked to?! ADHD is characterized by problems of focus and attention. Sometimes, the child with ADHD over focuses. For example, the child does not hear others talking to him or her, or the child may not realize that others are waiting their turn. And sometimes the child with ADHD under-focuses. For example, the child forgets to listen when someone is talking, or starts to do a specific thing and forgets what it was and then drifts into doing something else.
Many ADHD children find that use of medication helps them in both expected and unexpected ways. The expected way is that school grades and behavior improve. The unexpected is that they are better able to develop friendships by using better social skills and noting the nuances that make navigating social situations tricky. Many times, neither the parents nor the child realizes that the medication that helped them during school with behavior and grades was also helping them make and keep friends and relate more cooperatively … until the summer “medication vacation” begins. As a parent of a child with ADHD, if you notice that things have changed for the worse since school let out and the summer medication vacation began, consider talking to your doctor about re-starting your child’s medication. This will give your child the chance to make friends and be more “age appropriate” in regards to impulse control, attention and other important social skills.
Even with medication, non-structured summer days can be challenging children with ADHD. Here are some tips on keeping boredom at bay and managing symptoms.
– Structure your days and provide a regular routine. Kids with ADHD are less likely to be able to structure themselves and need external support. If you are working, make a list for your childcare provider; e.g., pool from 10 a.m. to noon, lunch at 12:30 p.m., reading/rest from 1-2., backyard activity in the afternoon, etc.
– Provide a few scheduled activities per week. Summer classes, activities or camps are an excellent way to fight boredom and provide your child with something to look forward to.
– Set a bedtime even though the days are longer during the summer. Bad bedtime habits are more typical of kids with ADHD because their bodies are more active, and they have difficulty settling down from computer games or TV and going to bed. They can be tired and uncontrollable the next day, so sticking to a routine (with some flexibility) is important.
– Continue learning activities during the summer. Whether it is tutoring or just having a set time to read every day, this can go a long way toward your child’s success at school in the fall.
Does My Child Have ADHD?
If your child exhibits behaviors symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder or is having trouble in school, consider having him or her evaluated for ADHD or learning differences during the summer instead of waiting until school is back in session. During summer, a psychologist’s schedule is less pressured, and he or she will have more flexibility to schedule testing and consult with you about your child.
In addition, the relaxed summer schedule allows you to take whatever steps might be most beneficial to your child after you receive the testing results, i.e., work with the school to arrange appropriate remediation or accommodations, meet with a counselor to work on social skills or impulse control, or consider whether medication is needed to help your child’s attention and focus.