Homework strategies for kids with ADHD, autism

Homework Strategies for Kids with ADHD, autism

What a pain!

Kids don’t want to do homework. Can you blame them? They just sat in school for 6+ hours, now we want them to sit down and do more school work during the little free time they have for themselves in the evenings. And struggling learners have been pushing so hard all day to listen and do what they’re asked. They’re spent, making them even more adamant that they not do any homework. And thus, the homework battles commence.

Homework is a parenting struggle for the majority of us raising kids with ADHD and/or high-functioning autism. It’s personally the most dreaded time of the day. There are some rules and strategies to implement to make it a bit better {thank goodness!}.


Homework Ground Rules

There are some general ground rules that should always be followed for homework time:

  • TV and other distractions must be turned off (music in the background actually helps some children drown out their surroundings and focus — it is a distraction for me and my son, but my daughter does homework better with music on).
  • Have a dedicated spot for homework and work there each day — routine and consistency are key.
  • Praise and reward often (typically more often than you are comfortable with).


Homework Timing

We’ve played around with time of day my son does homework over the years. I first tried homework right after school thinking medication would still be working {and that we should just get it over with}. That was a disaster. Kids need time to unwind and do whatever their hearts desire after being in school 6+ hours on someone else’s time.

We also tried after dinner, when school was a distant memory. That wasn’t as big a battle to get him to agree to do homework, like immediately after school was. However, his medication is no longer helping him slow down by that time, and it was a monumental chore to actually get anything accomplished.

4 pm turned out to be our “magic” homework hour. Now, I use the term “magic” very, very loosely. Our children with ADHD will never be willing to do homework, nor will they be efficient at it. It’s finding what works best under their circumstances that will be “magic” for your family. It may not be “magic” for a typically-abled child, but it’s magic for us. Remember, even the best laid plan will not cure the resistance to homework.

Be sure you offer lots of breaks. Physical movement helps with mental alertness, but also gives your child the opportunity to destress and regroup.


Homework Location

At 4 pm we turn off all electronics and sit down at the dining room table or kitchen counter. It could be on the floor, hanging upside down on the sofa, or under the bed for that matter — anywhere your child is comfortable, focused, and can write. Don’t be rigid about your idea of the way homework should be done (at a desk, for instance). The key is to figure out where and how your child can do their best on this task. It may be unconventional, but whatever works for them is totally acceptable, and best.

The HowdaHug chair was a miracle tool for us for many years.


Homework Toolkit

Continuous preparation is a common procrastination technique, conscious or not. To prevent this, create a homework toolkit. The toolkit should be some sort of box or desktop organizer (this desktop organizer is perfect for your toolkit!), even an actual toolbox, with every single thing necessary to complete homework, prepped and ready to go:

pencils (sharpened — sharpening pencils is a favorite procrastination technique of children),
pencil sharpener,
pencil grips (if used),
colored pencils (sharpened),
age-appropriate scissors,
notebook paper,
construction paper and/or blank copy paper,
index cards,
glue stick,
post-it notes,
clip board (if not working at a table or desktop),
anything else your child may use for homework.

A timer (there are many specifically for ADHD and special needs) is a great tool for completing a task, too. ADHDers often struggle with the concept of time. My son constantly asks me “how much longer?” when doing something he’d rather not be doing. He often overestimates the amount of time something will take, as well. A timer helps with both. If he is given a math worksheet and he has 15 minutes to complete it, the timer is set for 15 minutes. At any given moment, he can look at the timer and know how much time he has left to finish. The Time Timer is my favorite.


Get Creative with Homework

Get creative and make homework visual when you can. When my son was young, we got really creative. We used macaroni for math (in middle school, we’ve used candy corn to solve math problems, then eat them as the reward — I don’t like a lot of candy, but sometimes desperation wins). He liked to spell words with uncooked spaghetti mixed with elbow macaroni for curves (when the spelling words were 3 or 4 letters). Does your child love to paint? Let them paint their spelling words or their illustration for their writing assignments. Painting letters is actually a common therapy tool for children that struggle with hand writing. What about play-dough? I purchased a box of 101 alphabet and number cookie cutters for $10, and sometimes we used that for spelling and math.


Homework Accommodations

I can’t begin to count how many parents have told me their child is spending hours on homework every night just to get it done. We’re talking 2-4 hours for kids in elementary school. That’s not okay, folks!

Kids with developmental delays (ADHD and autism) and learning disabilities should not have to work on homework any longer than their neurotypical peers. To have a child work on a math assignment for two hours that took their peers 15 minutes to complete is punishing that child for having a disability. That’s not acceptable. That’s very, very unacceptable!

The rule of thumb for the maximum daily time spent on homework is supposed to be 10 minutes for every year of grade. That’s 10 minutes for a first grader, 20 minutes for a second grader, 60 minutes for a sixth grader, etc… Ask your child’s teacher how much time they expect their students to spend on homework each night. If your child is doing substantially more, ask for modified assignments, so your child is only working that length of time, whether the assignment is finished or not. We did this all through elementary school, and it helped a great deal.