Should You Medicate Your ADHD Child Over The Summer: A Pediatrician’s Opinion

Sheila Woods MD, FAAP                                                                           June 3, 2012

Would you send your diabetic child to camp without his/her insulin?

Most parents would answer a resounding “No, of course not” but you might be doing something similar if you take your child off his/her ADHD medications during the summer.  ADD/ADHD is a brain chemistry problem and can be compared, for example, to diabetes which is a blood sugar problem.  Medication that helps your child’s brain chemistry become better balanced is like insulin helping your child’s blood sugar become better balanced.

While ADHD patients share a number of characteristics, no two patients are alike, just like no two diabetics require the same dose of insulin.  In the past, doctors and parents alike viewed ADHD as a “school problem”; however, new evidence confirms that ADHD is a life span disorder affecting people differently at different stages of life and especially kids and teens from school to summer break.

For far too long, ADHD has been labeled as something other than a medical problem, but more recently parents and doctors have committed to diagnosing and treating ADHD based on precise and FDA cleared testing and professional guidelines based on evidence.  Irrefutable scientific studies have demonstrated repeatedly that medication management is essential to improving symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.  Some children only have inattention, and others have various combinations of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.

Whatever symptoms plague your child, it is important to understand that if medication is prescribed by your doctor, it is essential for you to give the medication every day including weekends and summer breaks.  On occasion, your doctor may request you to stop medication for medical reasons, but it is vitally important that you discuss any medication changes with your doctor first.  It is easy for a child to develop frustration and even anger when his/her brain chemistry is balanced one day and not the next.  After all, we would not ask a diabetic patient to manage their blood sugar one day and not the next.

Dr Sheila Woods is a Pediatrician with Focus in Greenville, SC. For more information on ADHD or to find out about the FDA approved computerized testing and customized treatment plans that FOCUS offers, contact Sheila Woods, MD, FAAP at 864-248-6393

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6 responses to “Should You Medicate Your ADHD Child Over The Summer: A Pediatrician’s Opinion

  1. Just today our pediatrician expressed concerns giving a med break to give time for make up growth. this article does not address this concern.

    • Hi Bridget, We are so glad that you brought this up. It states in the article that there may be medical reasons to take your child off of their medication, one of these is weight loss or growth concerns.

      Dr. Woods would like to stress that a discussion with your doctor needs to occur because there are certain medical reasons that your doctor may decide your child needs a medication break and lack of growth can be one of those reasons. Always follow your pediatrician’s advice.

      Continued success to you and your family!

  2. Our physician told us to give the medication as we felt comfortable, saying that if we didn’t want to give it over the summer or on the weekends, it was up to us. We’ve decided to give him a 3 day break during the week. In theory, we don’t give it to him Friday, Sat, and Sunday. However, last Friday there was an exam, so I gave him his medication anyway and just withheld it on Monday.

    I notice he’s pretty wired those days, but part of it might be that I’m becoming accustomed to having him medicated 4 days of the week and those 3 are serious culture shock! However, maybe you make a good point about his frustration level being up because of the imbalance that day. Perhaps he too, is suffering from weekend shock when we don’t medicate. We also have decided to take the summers off unless there is an event where he needs the focus.

    I know other parents who don’t medicate on the weekends or during the summer unless there is an event or something. I was was really worried about the medication thing, but overall our son has responded great.

    I think your blog makes some very good points. I’m not wild about the medicaton or the idea of it being given EVERY day, I’m hoping for a point where it won’t have to be given at all. However, I’m also training him so that if he goes to a friend’s house he can take it. He doesn’t want anyone to know and with the way kids are, I can’t say I disagree!

    • I wanted to follow up on this great comment as we feel you have a strong grasp on your child’s needs and it sounds like very open lines of communication with him to help him optimize and be as effective and comfortable as possible. I wanted to share some additional follow up from one of our Pediatricians who I had asked to share their thoughts:

      While I really understand reluctance to give your child medication every single day I would ask you to put yourself in his/her shoes. If your child needed glasses to see well, would you only give him/her the glasses Monday through Friday? If your child needed medication to treat a chronic condition like diabetes, would you only give him/her the medication on Monday through Friday? ADHD is a chronic condition of differing neurobiological anatomy and chemistry, which is why we have shared our suggestion to maintain treatment.

      By putting yourself in his/her shoes, you will learn that life (not just life at school) but life in general is harder if your child has ADHD. We know from brain research that ADHD brains have more inefficient activation patterns leading to inattention and impulsivity. I applaud you for teaching your child that a pill DOES NOT fix everything, but the right medication can certainly help your child listen to you as well as his teacher, focus on his/her chores, and absorb your teachings regarding how to take responsibility and control his/her own actions.

      One thing that helped me as a parent when I was looking at treatment for my own child was thinking about driving. When your child turns 16 and is learning to drive, would you rather have a focused, calm driver every day of the week or an impulsive inattentive driver on the days he/she does not take the medication?

      We appreciate you also adding in the part about how to take the medication without labeling. We have heard this from other parents and hope to incorporate it in to a future post. Thank you for you great feedback and thoughts!

  3. I just wanted to add a bit. While I have done my research on the topic of using stimulant medications on younger children can affect their growing processes as well. I was wondering if you could comment on this…it seems like there are some recommendations out there that taking some time off is a good thing for growing, etc.

    • From one of our Pediatricians:

      Thank you for your comment regarding medication and growth. It is true that some children will lose weight on stimulant medications and on occasion, their physician may recommend a break from medication to promote weight gain. The research tells us that overall, long term growth is not affected by stimulant medications even at younger ages.

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