ADHD & Gymnastics DD is struggling. Any ideas?

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Proud Parent
Jun 3, 2011
My DD has been diagnosed with ADHD for about 3 years now. She just started doing Gymnastics about 1 ½ years now. She is 9yo and has progressed rather quickly. She competed as a L4 last year successfully and is now learning her L5 routines. Summer practices are in the morning so she was able to take her medication and do really well in her up training. Now school has started and by the time she gets out of school and to gym she is quite the handful. The wonderful coaches have talked to her and me about the problems with concentration and ability to control her body thru her skills. She is struggling needless to say. Taking more medication after school is just not an option at this point. Her doctor will not do it for homework or gymnastics. DD practices for 4 hours three times a week

I would like to know if any of you are dealing with ADHD and what some good ideas are for her and her coach to both keep their sanity. He is working with approx 15-18 other DD’s and mine is a distraction. I would love to have ideas for her, me and the coach that maybe I can pass along. He is open to suggestions. :confused:
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I am so sorry you are dealing with this. I have friends with kids in both elementary school and high school who are dealing with add/ medications issues. Those meds are challenging and the side effects are causing havoc.

Would it be possible for her to take 1/2 her medication in the morning and 1/2 later in the day? If it was not gymnastics, she needs to be able to focus on something later in the day. Good Luck.
Just know you are not alone. I know of another struggling with the same issue. Good luck!
My first thought was also if she would be able to split her medication and take half in the morning and half in the afternoon. You'd have to discuss this with her doctor at first. Does she have gymnastics right after school? If she has a break in between, perhaps it would be helpful to let her enjoy that unstructured time.

Every kid is different, but if she is being hyper and uncontrolled, it might be a matter of too much waiting. On the coaching side, this can be helped by having stations and encouraging constant movement. Can you elaborate any on what you mean by "problems with concentration and ability to control her body thru her skills"? I've coached enough kids that I might have suggestions if you can tell us a little more.
My first thought is "how is she being a distraction?"

While the coach may not be equipped to handle her fast paced (probably sometimes manic) thinking, what s/he can do is give clear expectations and consistency.

Gymnastics is all about consistency, and what most kids with ADHD need is... consistency! And, a lot of patience. Personally (having a Spec. Ed. teaching background) I think ADHD is a bit over tossed around, and often mis-diagnosed. Many times, the students I had were not properly taught HOW to learn and what is expected, and they found ways to cope with a lack of structure, purpose, and eventually block themselves from being successful. There is a reason many many kids "outgrow" their ADHD - they simply learn how to cope better, and manage their own person.

It really depends on how your daughter is, and WHO she is. Is she distracting by doing things that are dangerous to herself and others? If so, she needs to be removed from the gym right then and there. It's a lesson. Don't do that, or you don't come back.

What's more likely is that she is verbally being annoying or distracting to other athletes. If this is the case, she needs to find a coping mechanism to deal with her need to verbalize her (pick problem - frustration, feeling of helplessness, feeling of inadequacy, etc.. whatever her flavor is), and instead she needs to find a productive action to move through the situation. Something that the coach is aware of - even if it's walking away for a minute to get a drink, balling her eyes out, and coming back.

Gymnastics is scary - and something that requires concentration. It's also fun, exhilarating, and full of positive emotion. I bet when she learned her first flip-flop, she didn't stop doing them - something that rquires a TON of concentration. I bet when she learns giants she will do the same. The problem is not that your daughter has ADHD, the problem is your daughter does not know how to connect to what she is doing. Why is she there? What motivates her? Why does she have problems and what triggers them? Sometimes, it's just the fact that she's sitting around, other times it's because there's too much blue on the carpet. She needs to find an activity that will help her refocus and maintain that desire to do better and not bring others down. The biggest problem for ANY young kid in gymnastics is learning HOW TO WATCH. Some people do not learn visually, they have to do. So, my suggestion for that is, when watching, ask her to "feel her muscles do what she is seeing." It's hard! But, it will give her something to focus on!

Also, is she aware of what she is doing? That's the big part of it. If she is aware, she has some control. How can you teach her to be aware? How can you help her identify poor actions and bolster good actions?

This is a discussion that can go on for hours. In reality, if your daughter is diagnosed with ADHD, and has that designation in school, then she is more than likely already receiving services through her school. Talk to her Occupation Therapist (does she have one? If not, is one available? Ask!), or anyone else who is helping her with the management aspect of academic and social skills. They can work with her on many personal skills, and they should be aware of her interests outside of school to help create a bond with her and see where she is coming from. It all works together, assuming your daughter's best interest is in mind.

As a final note: I would NOT in any way encourage splitting her meds. They are working for her for academics, and as much as I love gymnastics - they will be FAR FAR more valuable to her than any skill ever will. Making changes to medication without a doctor's approval will only lead to frustration and more problems in the long run. She needs to be weaned off meds like that, she cannot simply stop, or her brain will seek to find the therapy they were providing elsewhere.

When she is at gymnastics, she needs to know her expectations. She needs to have something to do. She needs to feel accomplished and have personal goals in mind. Help her. She will fight with you, and she will love you - but in the end, all the ups and downs you feel from all of it will only be a slight view of what she experienced going through it from her side. Be patient but firm, and she will be fine.

Good luck!

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You are going through the same exact thing as us. My DD was diagnosed with ADHD about 4 months ago and as of right now by the time she gets to practice at 4:30 it is wore off and she had been dreadful. I did speak with her doctor and he is going to up her medication. Not sure what advice I can give you since your doctor will not up the meds. I can't really say that I do or don't support that because I'm not sure what dose your daughter is on. I know some doctors try to prevent from getting in the higher doses just for homework and gymnastics. My daughter was doing very well until the night classes started again and she goes from 4:30 - 7:30 three days a week and lets say so far has not been well.
I'm sorry. This can be so tough. My DD has ADD, but does fine in school, so we don't medicate her. I often feel like she needs meds when she's at gym or home, but it seems wrong to only have her on meds so she can get through gym. Mine doesn't act out, but the focus is definitely not there. I've noticed little things that can help. For example, a lot of coaches will set up stations, but not give the kids an order or starting point. I've asked that, even if they don't do this for the other girls, please assign my DD a starting point and a definite order. This is just one example, but if you can pinpoint little things like that, it's really not any more work for the coaches, but can make a huge difference for the child.

My DD also not aware of her body, but it really just takes once, per skill, where the coach spends a few minutes showing her, HANDS ON, what she's doing wrong and what the correct way is. Again, it usually just takes once, and in the grand scheme of things it ends up saving time and energy of not having to repeat the verbal corrections over and over.

Just watch a practice and see if you can pinpoint even just a few things where a small change might make a big difference, and then talk to the coaches.

Sorry I don't have many suggestions, but good luck & remember you're not alone.
You said she competed last year as a L4 so she would have had some practices after school although probably not as many. Did she have problems then or is this something that you're just seeing? How does she do on days with no gym---is she able to focus enough to get homework done?
These meds sometimes have to be adjusted as the child grows. If you haven't spoken with her doctor recently, might be time for a chat.
Ryantroop had some great ideas, not sure I have anything to add to his advice.
Medication can be tricky to get worked out with timing, side effects, etc. So if it's in a place where it's working for school and allowing her to be productive there, I think I would leave things as they are. No sense messing around with something that already seems to be doing its job. Talk to your doctor about any recommended behavioral strategies to help her out in the afternoon/evenings and work on implementing those consistently. Does she see any kind of behavioral therapist to help with non-medication methods of dealing with behaviors? I'm sure they would be able to recommend some ideas to use at the gym or at home. These are good life skills to have for any person, so it can be a helpful thing far beyond gymnastics. And please don't take this as me saying I don't believe in medication, because I know from first hand experience it can be a God-send for many children dealing with ADHD and similar disorders. I was a medicated child for another condition and even with behavioral therapy, medication was absolutely essential. If your doctor is handling things well, no need to go out and find someone else.
Keep communication open with the coach. I can't speak for all coaches, but I love when a parent is able to tell me what is going on with their child and I how I can help. If a parent comes to me with a specific concern I am more than happy to adapt lesson plans to allow the child to be successful in the gym. You never know how many other kids you could be helping by making suggestions. And coaches are dealing with so many different personalities and needs, sometimes it's easy to miss a a relatively easy change of plans to accommodate one or more children.
For my kids who have concentration related problems, whether ADHD or other ones, I try to keep them moving- not leaving them to work on their own or at a minimally engaging station for too long. Depending on the group of kids, I might even put in a "rest" type station where I have them work on splits, pike stretches, or something not too active to relax, gather their thoughts, and prepare for the next round. With some kids I will give them specific directions to use that station as a time to remember their corrections from their last turns. For some kids I ask them to repeat the corrections to me, just to make sure they understood what I was saying. Sometimes I need to straight up ask if they understand, and if they don't find another way to word the suggestions, demonstrate for them, or physically put them through the correction- each kid is different in what helps them to best understand. So an accommodating coach really is the key, and spelling those accommodations out to the coach is so helpful.
Good luck!
Well to be more specific about her focus difficulties ...When she is standing in line she can't stand still. She can't focus long enough to watch the person in front of her. She forgets what she is supposed be doing. We she gets reminded by the coach she get frustrated with herself. She is a very bright girl. She is in advanced classes at school and we never have a homework issue b/c she finishes it at school. Her teacher said her meds are fine at school because she is able to do all of her work plus get homework done befor school is out. For most kids it would be about 1 hour of homework 3x per week. I truly don't think upping her meds would help becaus they only last about 10 hours. She takes them at 7.30am so by 5.30pm they are done. UPDATE: The fab coach she has is a true blessing and between the two of us have found a pretty good option. He has set her up on the buddy system with an older gymnast in the same class to help prompt her and keep her straight. On top of that I remember someone telling me that caffeine will help slow her down just like her medication. So she is getting iced tea before practice and during break. It was amazing!! She learned her cast to handstand Friday night and seems to feel accomplished again. I hope this path continues. Thanks to everyone for your support, encouraging words and ideas. Keep them coming and I will keep you updated on our progress.
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ADHD medications come in two different types, there are short acting medications which last around 4 hours and long acting medications like the one your DD is on which lasts for the day.

Long acting medications are becoming very popular in the USA because it means they only have to have one tablet, once in the morning. But the problem with Long acting meds is that they work very well in the mornings and wear off throughout the day, there is not too much left in the system by the afternoon. For many ADHD kids this is fine because their main learning happens in the morning and by the afternoon they are just at home playing. But a gymnast is seriously disadvantaged, without medication they can't focus as well which means they can;t progress as well and get as much out of the sport as they should, they will not be able to make the same social friendships with their team mates and may be in trouble a lot with the coaches affecting self esteem and even causing her to start to dislike gymnastics altogether.

It is really unfair that your doctor won't consider meds out of the school. ADHD is NOT a learning problem and it is not only a school program after school there is homework, extra curricular activities, chores and home expectations, trying to maintain positive social interaction with siblings and friends, even enjoying simple things like reading a book are harder.

One option that many of the doctors are taking in Australia is to take the long acting medication in the morning but a short acting pill in the afternoon to get them through the rest of the day. It is possible that your doctor has not even considered this possibility.
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"It is really unfair that your doctor won't consider meds out of the school. ADHD is NOT a learning problem and it is not only a school program after school there is homework, extra curricular activities, chores and home expectations, trying to maintain positive social interaction with siblings and friends, even enjoying simple things like reading a book are harder."

This is so right on. My son is also ADHD and though he takes a long acting medication in the morning before school, but his pediatrician has always said that if he is ever truly struggling with something outside of school hours, we should consider a short acting medicine for later in the day. The way he described it to me is that the Concerta (long med) will get him from 8-3ish... But if he's having trouble in the later afternoon/early evening hours, we should have him take a dose of a Ritalin type med which will last for about 4 hours. This is not an uncommon thing at all according my son's doctor. As he said, yes the priority is the school hours, but that doesn't mean the condition should be ignored just because he isn't at school.

Glad to hear your coach is working with her though and I wish her the best of luck!
Keep in mind, many doctors are hesitant to toss around meds - especially stimulants!! - to depress the potential for dependency or escalation (that is, turning to new drugs to mimic or increase the desired affect). Perhaps the percieved problem is greater than the actual problem, and the doctor is being cautious for that purpose.

Doctors are doctors for a reason (mostly). It's great to have open discussion with them, and consider alternatives, and you have EVERY RIGHT to ask them WHY they are making their choice (it is your child's life and well being, after all, and any doctor who takes these questions personally and as an attack should probably be ditched anyhow), you need to find a point where you trust what they are doing and understand that they have your child's best interest in mind.
If you do a little search of the forum you can see video of my 9yo dd at the end of her med efficacy during awards for a meet. She is now 10 and has been a gymnast for 3 years and on meds for 2. I have found that changing her meds to stretch them out negatively affects her diet and sleeping. At the beginning of the school year and after holidays she may take several weeks for the meds to work their magic at school and practice. Having a coach who is aware goes a long way too. J's coach does a lot of hands on with her to keep her mind on the task. She will tap her shoulder or lift her foot just to keep her brain engaged. J also eats 1/2 a pbj or protein bar when she puts on her grips bc ADHD meds decrease appetite which also can cause her to be easily distracted. She has 3 hrs practice 4x a week so staying hydrated also affects her attention. She has a huge water bottle she has to finish that her coach swears keeps her on goal. She is training level 7 so we have put together these small details since she moved to level 5 with the diagnosis. And I swear gymnastics has taught her amazing focus skills that has carried thru to her school day. Good luck and pm me if you want a few more suggestions. She was struggling as a 2 grader, level 4 gymnast and now she is a top student mathlete who won states level 6 vault, 4 aa who helps keep the team on track. What a difference!
It's important to remember that with medications come the risk of all kinds of side effects. So if the problem at the gym is so bothersome to your DD that she's really beating herself up over it and causing a significant problem in her life, then maybe discussing other medication options with your doctor would be a good idea. BUT, if behavioral therapy or alterations to training seem to be doing the trick and your DD is handling everything okay, then I'm not sure changing medication patterns is the way to go. Medication is a great thing when it works and when a child responds favorably to it, especially if other options are not working. It can really work wonders for helping children dealing with ADHD be more productive and successful, and also feel better about themselves. But I'm guessing there are reasons this particular doctor is not suggesting that route. But the above posters are right, it could be something to ask about if your DD at any point becomes frustrated or upset with herself as a result of the ADHD at the gym. Again, please don't think I'm against medication, it's how I got through a lot of things in my childhood and I am so grateful for it, but I also know the pain associated with side effects and juggling medications to find the right fit, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone if it wasn't necessary.
It sounds like your DD is working with a great coach, I wish there were many more like that out there.
That's great that you guys have come up with a solution! And yes, what you have heard about caffeine is true.

I have another suggestion, if the current solution doesn't work. See if the coach would be willing to restructure the practices a bit, so that there is less standing in line. When I was training with the team in high school, our gym had us do stretching and conditioning in between our turns. This left us with very little time to be standing in line just watching and waiting. Besides, unless one of the other girls is doing something particularly *well* and serves as a good example of what TO do, it could be confusing when paying attention to the corrections the coach is giving to people for difficulties she may not even have herself.

As far as the medication, if the doctor doing the prescribing is a pediatrician it is time to find someone else to be in charge of her ADHD meds. As someone in both mental health and special ed (and someone with ADHD myself), it really irks me that pediatricians are ones who are frequently in charge of ADHD meds and often the ones diagnosing ADHD. A mental health professional, whether psychologist or psychiatrist should always be involved. A psychiatrist for sure, unless you live in a state that allows psychologists to prescribe medication. A child psychiatrist would have a much better idea of the ins and outs of ADHD and the associated medications. They or a psychologist may also be able to help your DD learn effective strategies to use to work around and work with her ADHD so she can be more successful both in school and in the gym.

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I am so glad you found a few things that help! Both my boys have ADHD and playing with the meds is tough. About the only thing we can do when they have something late afternoon or evening is try to delay the morning dose a bit. Getting on the bus limits how late we can give it, but if you could give it at 8, then it wouldn't wear off until 6 right? Gives it a little more time.

The problem I see, if she is anything like most kids on meds, the coming off part if horrendous and her body is doing that right in the middle of gym. I know it is a rough 30 minutes or so around here every afternoon. Good luck!
I was/am on medication for a not ADHD thing (which then had side effects that basically mimicked really really intense ADHD. Like, impulsive enough to be a danger to myself intense). Not taking what I was taking was not in any way shape or form an option.

And then a small dose of a stimulant before school & a smaller dose after-for practice-made all the difference in the world. My dose never went up, they never had to change it to something 'stronger', I could focus enough to think about the stupid stuff I was about to try (instead of noticing in the middle of screwing it up. Gosh, I was a nightmare for a while in there). And I learned how to deal.

It was an unusual situation, in that most people don't have Thing A turning mild ADHD tendencies up to 11, but I'm pretty in favor of giving a kid the tools to do their best. It's very frustrating to be able to focus for half the day and then feel out of control the other half.

(and at 28, Thing A still needs treatment. Thing ADHD, I can cope with as long as I stay active. It just took time & learning coping skills when I was attentionally capable).

Good luck to all the families with an ADHD kid.
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