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ADHD Travel: Is It Possible to Relax on Vacation When Kids Have ADHD?

Summer travel and vacation plans have been put on hold since my daughter, who has ADHD, has started having behavioral problems again. What can we do to stay sane on our next family trip?

My daughter, Natalie, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), doesn’t tolerate riding in the car well, and this, along with several other behavioral issues, has limited our choices for family vacations. Trips to Omaha, Nebraska, and Kansas City, Missouri (drives of about three hours each way), taught us that we were really pushing it, so for the last two years, we’ve made plans right here in Iowa, where we live. This summer, we got overconfident and decided to risk a longer drive. We drove five hours to St. Louis, Missouri, where we stayed for four days.

Our overconfidence came from a wonderfully successful and relaxing trip we took to San Diego over winter break. We flew rather than drove, but it was much more than avoiding a long drive that made that trip enjoyable. Natalie was doing exceptionally well in general at that time, and her behavior was excellent almost every minute of the trip. The great experience gave me hope. I dreamed of family vacations to some of the country’s famous national parks or maybe a spring break trip to a beautiful beach somewhere warm (and far away). But, as many of you know, our kids’ level of functioning doesn’t follow a straight, upward path from poor to good to better. It has peaks and valleys like the mountains in some of those national parks that I dream of visiting. And since late April or so, Natalie has been exploring a valley.

The medication increase that I wrote about recently did some good, but we’re still seeing plenty of troubling behaviors. Natalie’s fine one minute but loses control easily and unpredictably. Her sleep pattern is way off. And she’s become more socially intrusive than ever before. She is more impulsive and without boundaries in social situations, which has caused her some problems with other adults and kids and has caused the rest of the family plenty of embarrassment, including several incidents on this latest vacation. All four of us — my husband, Don; Nat’s big brother, Aaron; Natalie; and I — had a miserable time. I came home in desperate need of a vacation — from Natalie.

For several months, I’d been looking forward to another trip this summer. One of Natalie’s former daycare teachers/tutors/respite providers, Allie, is getting married, and Natalie and I, along with her best friend, Harry, and his mom, Victoria, planned to attend the wedding in Chicago. We’ve been talking about it for months. We’d leave on a Thursday, spend some time enjoying the city, attend the wedding on Saturday, and drive back on Sunday. Hotel reservations were made, RSVPs sent. Harry and Victoria arranged to spend some time with relatives and friends who live in Chicago. Natalie and I planned to spend a day and a night with her aunt Julie and a group of her friends. But now I don’t think I can do it. I don’t think I can ride in a car with Nat for seven hours, eat in restaurants, keep her safe on city streets. And mainly, I don’t think I can risk her behaving inappropriately in front of Allie and her fiancé Anay’s friends and family.

I couldn’t sleep last night, trying to decide what to do — if we don’t go we’ll disrupt so many other people’s plans. But if we do go, all involved might be miserable. I could feel the ball of stress spinning around and around in my stomach as I lay awake thinking. I still haven’t made a decision.

Someone tell me what to do. What would you do?

In the meantime, as I weigh my options regarding the wedding, I’m heaving a sad sigh. I’m afraid my fantasy vacations of the future might remain just that — fantasies.

[A Vacation for ME!]