1. Find a little routine wherever you can.
ADHD kids are true creatures of habit, and most need the consistency of routine to get them through the day. Finding ways to recreate their home routines while on the road can be a little challenging, so instead find a “vacation routine” for those times of day that most need it. At home, my daily morning routine with my ADHD son is non-negotiable, but on vacation we always develop a new ‘vacation’ morning routine. On our last trip, my son and I went to the same coffee shop every morning, where I ordered coffee and he ordered a chocolate croissant. We always walked back to the house along the boardwalk and sat on the front porch to enjoy our breakfast and talk about the day ahead.
2. Let them know what to expect.
Give them as much detail as you can about what to expect on the trip. Let them know ahead of time how long it will take to get there, where they’ll be sleeping, what kind of food might be available, and so on. Frame these explanations in terms they understand. For example, my son is terrible at time, so instead of telling him the flight takes four hours, I tell him it takes about the same amount of time as two movies. Be brutally honest with them about how much waiting in line they will have to endure at the airport, bus or train station. Knowing these things will help limit the melt-downs associated with trying something outside their norm.
3. Involve them in making plans.
ADHD kids definitely like to have a plan, and they like having one even more when they are involved in making it. Way before your trip, get them excited by learning about the area together and seeing all of the different things you could do while you are there. Let them know in advance if there are things that have to be done on the trip, but then use their input to plan the rest of the activities. Having one or two possibilities for each day of the trip planned ahead of time helps ADHD kids feel more comfortable because they know what they’re getting into.
4. But don’t forget to be flexible.
When these kids get something stuck in their head, moving a mountain is easier than getting them to change their minds. If you said the plan was to go to Legoland, then, by golly, you’d better go to Legoland. But, if you happen to meet a street vendor who tells your kid about a great spot to hike and search for shark teeth, and suddenly he’d rather do that, by all means rejoice in the opportunity to save a few bucks and have an authentic experience. I know it is not always possible to follow their every whim, but sometimes it’s nice for these routine-driven kiddos, and for you, to enjoy a taste of spontaneity.
5. Be prepared for long spans of down time.
For me personally, this is the hardest, I love to see and do as much as I possibly can while on vacation. For a kid with ADHD, just being out of their home environment can be over stimulating and exhausting! They need time alone to just sit and relax in a comfy spot. It helps if you bring along some of their favorite downtime activities from home, such as a couple books, art supplies, a drawing pad and an iPad along.
6. And always, always know where the playgrounds are.
If you are on a city adventure, kids with ADHD will be using most of their limited attention span just to keep it together. This often leads to the ever frustrating and unpredictable “attention fatigue”, a condition that occurs when they are forced to block out stimuli in order to focus on the task at hand. With all the hustle and bustle of a busy sidewalk, just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other is tough when there are so many other unusual and fascinating things to focus on. When the time for a break comes, head for the nearest park or playground for a little Green Space Therapy — just 20 minutes will help reset their focus.