Summertime is just around the corner, and Lynn is wondering what to do about her son’s ADHD meds. “He needs them for school, and medication has calmed him down, but some people have told me they take their kids off medication in the summer. So I‘m not sure what to do!”
Lynn is right that some parents take their children off ADHD meds in the summer, and that used to be the standard recommendation. A break from the medication was thought to be particularly helpful for children experiencing appetite suppression while taking stimulants. In addition, parents and doctors alike hoped the summer medication holiday might allow for a growth spurt. Recently, though, some experts have begun to dispute this idea. And some ADHD experts are looking even more carefully at the importance of maintaining consistent medication use for promoting better long-term outcomes in individuals with ADHD.
So what’s a parent to do? Following a friend’s advice might not be the best option. For one thing, what works well for one child with ADD may not work well for another. Additionally, specific summer plans for your child and family may make a difference in what you decide. Knowing how your child’s medication works is another factor. Discussing your situation with the family doctor or psychiatrist who knows your child best is always a good idea.
Considering the following pros and cons can prepare you well for that discussion and for a decision you’ll feel confident about.
PROS OF A MEDICATION VACATION
1) Stimulant medications can be used “off” and “on” as needed with no adverse drug effects, so there is no danger per se in taking a break or using these medications on an “as needed” basis. However, non-stimulants, like Strattera, work differently. To stop Strattera, it’s important to check with your doctor, as careful weaning may be necessary. To ensure your child is ready for school, restarting Strattera several weeks before school resumes is also essential.
2) Some healthcare providers suggest a periodic break from ADHD medications to see if they are still needed. The summer can be an easier time for that since the demands of school are not in play, but remember: that doesn’t mean medication won’t be needed again when returning to the more structured classroom environment.
3) For children having troublesome side effects with their medication (reduced appetite is a common example), the summer can allow time for a “vacation” from those concerns. However, some experts suggest that as an alternative to a break, the summer should be used to try a different dose or a different medication to minimize side effects.
4) For children who are primarily inattentive, treating ADHD symptoms with medication may not be needed in the summer when the demand to stay focused to succeed is significantly less than during the school year.
CONS OF TAKING A SUMMER BREAK IN MEDS
1) When kids with ADHD go to day camp or overnight camp, medication may be helpful. While on their meds, some kids with ADD will cooperate more readily with group activities, listen more carefully to counselors, get along more easily with peers, and be less likely to “get in trouble.” The camp may be more fun for everyone that way!
2) Whenever kids with ADHD engage in potentially hazardous summer activities – swimming, boating, and archery, for example – having their regular ADHD meds on board improves safety by promoting better focus and limiting impulsivity.
3) Family plans are important to consider as well. For example, if you will be taking a family vacation and expect your child with ADHD to travel calmly for hours in the car, meds may be helpful. Similarly, if you are spending loosely structured days at home with your child, meds may make the experience more pleasant for you both. Playing with neighborhood friends even improves for some children when ADHD symptoms are controlled.
4) Some healthcare providers suggest that medication for ADHD should be considered, like insulin for diabetes: it promotes well-being. For example, many children who take medications for ADHD feel more clear-headed, interact more easily with others, have better follow-through, get more positive feedback, and experience greater success when taking medication. If this is true for your child, continuing medication over the summer will continue those benefits.
5) New research suggests that individuals with ADHD who are consistently medicated may have better long-term outcomes. If these findings are accurate, continuing medication over the summer may help manage short-term symptom management and improve long-term benefits.
Although it looks like a lot to consider, knowing your child well, understanding how your child’s medication works, and considering your family’s summer plans will help you and your healthcare provider make an appropriate decision. And help your child and your family have the wonderful summer you look forward to!
Whatever you decide about the summer, experts suggest that you start your child back on ADHD medications a week or two before the school year resumes. That way, they have time to adjust and will be at their best when that school bell rings!
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Laurie Dupar, Senior Certified ADHD Coach and trained Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner specializing in working with clients diagnosed with ADD/ADHD who want to understand how their brain works, minimize their challenges and get things done! Through individual/group coaching, live speaking, and her writing, she helps clients and their loved ones use effective strategies to minimize their ADHD challenges so they can experience success. She is the co-author and editor of the Amazon #1 best-selling ADHD Awareness Book Project series and author of Brain Surfing and 31 Other Awesome Qualities of ADHD. In 2015 she opened the International ADHD Coach Training Center (IACTCenter), where she trains and prepares coaches to run a successful and profitable ADHD Coaching business.