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Driving and ADHD
Q: My 15-year-old son has ADHD. He is extremely "spacey" although he does take Ritalin® as well as Zoloft®. Next year he will be eligible to get a learner's permit. I am concerned that he is not attentive enough to be a safe driver. How have other parents handled this? Do you have any recommendations?
A: You have a reason to be concerned. In an article written for the journal Pediatrics in December, 1996, Dr. Russell Barkley, an expert in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and his co-workers presented research indicating that teenagers with ADHD are four times more likely than other kids to have accidents while driving. In addition, they are more likely than other kids to get tickets for speeding and stop-sign violations. They are about seven times more likely to get into two or more crashes, and over four times more likely to be the cause of the accidents they have.
An excellent article on this subject was written for Attention! Magazine by Dr. Marlene Snyder and Rae Hemphill. Snyder and Hemphill discuss the importance of parents establishing rules and expectations for safe driving behavior. They remind us that driving is a privilege -- not a right -- of teens, and that parents need to be certain that their children have sufficient skills and a sense of responsibility before handing over the car keys. Since parents of kids with ADHD are more likely to incur higher insurance rates, the authors give helpful advice on how to get proper insurance protection for your child (and yourself) and offer cost-saving suggestions. Their article also discusses the legal and behavioral implications of teens, like your son, who take prescription medication. You're right to be thinking about this important issue now, before you put your son behind the wheel of a potentially lethal vehicle.
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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.