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get out the bandaids!


A few months ago -- as I got ready to jump in the car and pick up my son to transport him to an emergency room to find out why he had reportedly lost his hearing after getting hit in the head with a ball in gym -- my daughter asked me, "Mom, how many times have you had to take Justin to the emergency room?" Well, that was not exactly the time to discuss it, but as I drove to my son's school, I tried to think back.....

There was the time when he fell off the school bus getting off, but hey, he was only 6, and any kid can fall, right? His school picture taken the next day showed this gorgeous kid with a beautiful Mickey Mouse sweater and a fat lip.....

Then there was the time when he was playing with a neighbor's child and amazingly ran head on into a tree that had only been there for about 50 years....

And the time that he stood up on the school bus because he thought that they had arrived, only to fall backwards when the bus started moving again, requiring stitches to the back of his head....

And the time he stepped on a fish hook in his summer camp cabin, and had to get the hook removed in the E.R....

And the time a kid in his gym bumped or pushed him, and he fell down, breaking his wrist....

And now this -- his failure to duck when a large round object was coming at his head in gym, where one might reasonably expect people to be aware of airborne balls during sports....

As a former medic, I tend to stay pretty calm in emergencies. After all, I'd handled plenty of car crashes at the race tracks. And I was the one all the neighbors came to when their children fell or got hurt. But was I under-reacting to my son's safety needs now? Was his school? This would be his 5th emergency room visit compared to 0 for his younger sister. Now I know boys are supposed to be active, but was my son just a klutz, was this a gender thing, or are kids with ADHD more likely to have accidents, and if so, why?


While it might seem almost intuitively obvious that children who are inattentive or impulsive are more likely to get into accidents, the actual published literature on the question has been somewhat equivocal at times.

Gayton et al. (1986) rated 189 patients at a child psychiatric clinic on a scale which included measures of hyperactivity and accident proneness. They reported that hyperactivity was correlated with reports of being "accident prone," and that the relationship applied to girls as well as to boys. Farmer and Peterson (1995) expanded on earlier research by looking at specific processes that might account for the increased risk. In their study, two groups of 7-11-year-old boys (14 ADHD and 16 controls) were asked to watch a videotape which simulated play activities. The children were asked to identify risky behaviors and then answer questions about risky scenes. Both the ADHD and control groups were able to identify the hazards, but the children with ADHD underestimated or anticipated less severe consequences following risky behavior than the non-ADHD controls. The ADHD children also generated fewer active methods for preventing injury than did the controls. Their data suggest, then, that the ADHD child's reduced expectation of personal risk or injury and their reduced ability to generate preventive strategies may contribute to increased risk of accident and injury.

Wazana (1997) reviewed 11 general child injury studies and 6 child pedestrian injury studies to determine if there really is a pattern of accident proneness that is specific to any disorder or behavioral factors. When design limitations and other factors are considered, it appeared that: (1) aggression or aggressive behavior is a consistent risk factor for general injuries but not for pedestrian injuries, (2) hyperactivity is inconsistently associated with all types of injuries, and (3) both a general measure of behavior problems and a measure of unsafe behavior were found to be significantly related to pedestrian injuries.

It is important to note that in Wazana's data, while child risk factors contributed significantly to pedestrian injuries, their overall effect or contribution was small compared to environmental and social risk factors. Indeed, other investigators have noted that risk of injury is correlated with social class differences and parental education in terms of addressing home stressors (such as parental behaviors that contribute to increased risk), developing safety rules and strategies for their children, and supervising the children. Rivara (1995, 1998) notes that the most important risk factors for injury are gender, age, socioeconomic status, developmental status, behavior problems, substance abuse by parent and adolescent, and parents' perceptions of injury risk. Rather than looking to tag or label the child as "accident prone," Rivara's approach emphasizes the need for parents and society to alter our behavior to keep all children safe by considering whether there is a match (or mismatch) between a child's skill and their development age so that anticipatory guidance can be provided. While most parents do try to anticipate situations and help the child rehearse safe responses, there are so many situations that we don't anticipate. And we are not there in the classroom, on the playground, or in gym, so school personnel also need to be alert to the potential for accidents and injury and take appropriate steps.


The preceding discussion only considered the potential relationship between ADHD and accidents. What if the child also has Tourette's Syndrome, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or Bipolar Disorder? Are these children at even more risk if they feel they "have to" touch something in response to an obsessive worry?  What about the Bipolar child who is manicky and impulsive?  Will she be more likely to engage in behaviors that can lead to injury?  What about the depressed child who is angry? 

In my experience, children with ADHD plus comorbid conditions do seem to be at more risk for accidents and/or injury than the child who has ADHD without any comorbid conditions.

In the absence of research on this population, it is impossible to know whether the children are underestimating the risk or danger to themselves (as is the case with ADHD children) or if they estimate it properly but still can't stop themselves.

Whenever possible, planning for the student with ADHD or ADHD+ should incorporate reducing the environmental triggers or risks. And added adult supervision should be incorporated for those settings that are reasonably likely to increase safety risks -- such as gym, the playground, and field trips.

But even with vigilance, there may be times when your student or child will do something that you didn't anticipate. If you're lucky, you and the child will escape with just a "near miss" story. But when things calm down, talk with the child and help them figure out how they will manage that kind of situation if it occurs again.

Safety first. Yes, I know it may sound odd to have The Mother of the Child With Five ER Visits tell you this, but so far (and knock wood!), my son has never had an accident when he's been with me or under my supervision. Indeed, it was that last accident that made me realize how much we may need to educate educators so that they don't assume and don't take things for granted on the premise that the child "should know" by that age....

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