A common complaint of parents of students with ADHD or Asperger’s is that their child isn’t doing their homework. Here’s the bottom line – without proper intervention, many students with ADHD or Asperger’s are simply not capable of managing it on their own, even if they are in high school or college. This doesn’t mean that they are any less motivated. It simply means that their ADHD or Asperger’s is getting in the way. Our students’ executive functioning skills such as task initiation, sustained attention, planning, prioritizing and organization are both impaired and developing at a much slower rate than their peers. In fact, delays can be as much as 4-6 years! Add to that the hallmark traits of impulsivity and distractibility and you have a “homework nightmare”! All is not lost, however. This is the first of a two part series that spells out a 5 step process that will take the headache out of homework and move your child towards functioning independently. Here are your first 3 steps.
Step One: Make homework the number one priority. In today’s world, after school time typically involves a myriad of different activities – after-school clubs, sports activities, dance, theater practice, music lessons … you name it! I firmly believe that participation in these activities is not only important, but essential for our students. We all need “down time”. As important is the fact that these activities are oftentimes the areas in which our students can “shine” and feel a sense of self-worth and accomplishment. But, the issue becomes one of how many of these activities are appropriate and how much after school time is being spent on them. If you expect your child to take their homework seriously, you must set the standard that makes it a priority. After school activities must be selected judiciously and in moderation. Moreover, you must set a clear and firm expectation that homework time comes “front and center” – it cannot take a back seat to or be worked around after school activities.
Step Two: Help the student make a homework plan. The most common mistake I see parents make is that they take over the job of planning out their child’s schedule. There are two problems with that strategy. One – the student doesn’t learn how to do it on their own – or worse, they get into a state of “learned helplessness” wherein they believe that they can’t do it on their own. Secondly, the student is far less likely to follow through on a plan that they have no say in. Don’t assume that they know what to do, however, no matter how old they are. By the same token, don’t minimize their capabilities. Even a student in elementary school has the capacity to learn how to plan for homework and manage their time more effectively. But, they must be taken through the process, step by step, and taught how to do it. Encourage them to consider the amount of time it will take them to complete their homework. Teach them the difference between tasks and activities that are urgent, important or less important. And help them to decide on a time to begin their homework that is agreeable to both of you, taking into account the times when they are most alert or productive. If possible, encourage them to establish a consistent time for homework so that they begin their homework at the same time every day and begin to establish a routine.
Step Three: Supervise the student until they can do it on their own. What we know from the research that’s been done in the area of executive functioning is that, once a student has been taught what to do, in order to develop these skills to the point of independence, he or she must first be supported in their efforts. Whether it’s you, your spouse, a family member, a tutor, a coach or a very reliable babysitter – someone has to be there to provide supervision during homework time. Moreover, when providing support and supervision, we must take a “Goldilocks” approach – too much causes “learned helplessness”, and too little causes frustration. So, we have to provide just the right amount. Initially, for some students, that may mean that you have to prompt them every step of the way: What is the first assignment you will do? What materials do you need in order to complete the assignment? And, so on. Notice that I am telling you to prompt the student, not tell the student what to do. This helps them to begin to understand the steps that are involved and internalize the process. Reserve specific instructions for those times when the student genuinely doesn’t understand what is expected of him or her. Once you’ve done this several times, you can and should begin to fade the supervision (i.e., fewer prompts), gradually transferring responsibility to the student. © 2011 Pamela J. Milazzo, SAIL Institute