ADHD and Homework

Only a week of school has gone by and already homework is becoming an issue with many families who have children with ADHD.  What to do? There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the ideal homework setting, each situation is different, however there are some pretty simple rules I can tell you to start with.

Should my child study alone, or in the kitchen or living room where I can watch him/her?  
Some children with ADHD work inefficiently in an isolated, quiet setting like their room, and do better in the middle of some noise, movement and stimulation. I'm like that, during law school if I studied in the back of the law library ....well...I usually got a good nap! I needed to study at the front of the library where there was some action that activated my frontal lobes and forced me to work even harder to concentrate. So, there is no one rule. Experiment. Some kids do well at the kitchen table with headphones on, some with music, some with white noise. Some, yes, do need the absolutely quiet space. Try different settings and observe your child.  

What if they take too long to get something done?
This is my favourite question because it brings up an essential point. Many kids with ADHD start to learn to hate homework, and  school too, because they have a long history of failure at these tasks.  So, if your measuring "task completion" you are most likely not going to provide reinforcement because it becomes too hard and never gets done. Another issue: At the end of the homework period kids with ADHD start to work slower, get distracted and off task, and parents often give in. So, ultimately they get reinforced not for getting their homework done, but for getting off task, becoming non-compliant and just plain goofing around!  What to do? Set up a homework period, a set time that has a clear beginning and end, and don't reinforce or reward task completion (ADHD kids don't complete tasks!) but instead reward (immediately and frequently) on-task behaviour. "Hey Tommy, glad to see your still working on that, just five minutes to go, then we can watch that movie together!"

Reward on-task behaviour, not task completion. It works better.

My kid always forgets what the assignment is or forgets the books at school! His teacher says he does it on purpose.
No, he doesn't. He has ADHD. It's a mental health disorder your kid's teacher should make accommodations for. Heres an easy one: On Mondays give Tommy a list of all assignments for the week.  Or even better: On Monday email Tommy's assignments to his home email address (and yours!). A teacher unwilling to do this is ignoring your child's handicapping condition, and needs education or correction. This is not a moral issue, it's not about laziness or being stupid. It's about neurological deficits that are specific, limited and can easily be compensated for with appropriate accommodations.

But every other night he forgets his books?
Again, that's called ADHD. Accommodate. Get a second set of books for at home. I have seen this silly issue become a major argument between parents and teachers. Just give him a second set of books. Not fair? Well, this isn't about fairness, it's about appropriate accommodations for a handicapping condition: ADHD. Demand appropriate supports!

When his time is up, often the homework is done, but it's a mess and sometimes just wrong!
Again, that's called ADHD. Simple solution, after every third math problem, write "see me." Tommy brings it to you, you know he is on task, you can check the quality of his work...and evaluate if he understands it, and give him frequent positive reinforcement for: You got it- BEING ON-TASK! Way to go! Overcoming so many symptoms of ADHD already!

Your son or daughter might need breaks, and they might also need the time you require them to be on-task adjusted. Sometimes school, homework and academics in general become objects of fear for a child with ADHD. Don't let that happen. Don't let the mention of school, homework or academics make your child anxious.

How can you do that? Here is a simple rule. Your child should be successful at what he or she is doing about 85% of the time. We call that efficacy. Good enough to enjoy the work, but not so good at it that they become bored. If your child is operating at a 70-60-50% success rate, it's your duty as parents, and his or her teacher's duty as a teacher to check out what's going on, what the problems are and provide whatever support your child with ADHD needs to be successful at that level of efficacy.

There are many more tips and suggestions available. But I want to stop here. Don't take on too much. ADHD is difficult for families to deal with, and you should focus on one or two interventions at a time. If you were to follow my suggestions, and get these done pat, you would already have a good handle on dealing with ADHD because these rules and suggestions apply about so many issues. And one of the skills someone with ADHD needs to learn is to focus on one thing at a time. So do.  Good luck!

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