Homework Sucks (even more for ADHD students.) Yeah, most kids don’t like having to come home and do more school work. It can be doubly or triply hard for a child or young adult with ADHD. Fortunately parents can make a huge difference. I know, because I’ve had ADHD since I was three and homework was hell for me. My mom made it work by figuring out what I needed to make it doable and less stressful.
Homework can be a pain. Ask any student from grade school through high school. The difficulties other students have with homework can be significantly magnified for ADHD students. Here are some of the main problems that used to make homework suck for me:
- Busy Work: Not new, not challenging, not interesting, just plain repetitive. This can feel pointless and lead to boredom. People with ADHD have a tremendous problem working on things that are not interesting to them.
- Poorly Communicated Instructions: Vague written instructions and oral instructions separated from the written problems. This is just sloppiness on the part of the teacher and it leads to unnecessary frustration. People with ADHD are already frustrated by learning. Making it harder just ensures they will dread homework all the more and be more likely to give up.
- Too Much Homework: Loads of work that would clearly take even the above average student so long to do they can’t have a life. Pushing too much work on anyone can lead to feelings of futility and inadequacy. People with ADHD already encounter these feelings in abundance and, in addition, they can feel trapped.
- Punishment: Assignments given with the message that it is extra work because the teacher is mad at the class or student. OK, I hope we can all agree education should NOT be used as a punishment in ANY situation. Learning and the love of it is sacred and anything that jeopardizes this is just plain wrong.
My specific approaches to these issues for ADHD students are based on my experiences and what worked for me and my family while I was in elementary school and high school.
Busy Work is easily handled by taking a look at your child’s homework each time (day or week) it is assigned and assess with them whether they already know what is covered and how much more practice they need to gain proficiency. You will have to test them and/or look at previous work to ensure they do know what is being taught at the time. If they already know it. Move on to the next assignment. Send them to school with a brief note that homework takes a long time for them and you are helping them to prioritize based on aptitude. Most teachers appreciate feedback of this nature.
Poorly Communicated Instructions were always a problem for me. I did better hearing my mom read the instructions out loud for me. I would then state back to her what I thought I was supposed to do. If I did not understand correctly or fully she would help me to. If neither she nor my dad could understand, a note went back to school with me explaining that these instructions needed to be clearer. And frankly we often found that I was not the only student who did not understand what was being asked. I was, however, often the only person who’s parents were paying close attention to the homework (especially in high school.) I like to think a lot of other students benefited. Again, most teachers were happy for the feedback and impressed someone was paying attention.
Too Much Homework is a tricky one. You may have to actually meet face to face with the teacher to come up with a plan to make the homework more efficient or discuss tutoring. The common problem here is that ADHD people tend to take a little longer on certain tasks. That is why extra time on tests is so valuable even when a person with ADHD is undergoing some form of treatment (such as a medication regimen, biofeedback, mindfulness training, etc.) Take the time to determine if this is the case. This is a big issue because it can lead a person with ADHD to feel very inadequate. Work with the teacher to ensure that the homework load is not unreasonable in general. Once this problem is eliminated, if your child still has trouble with homework volume, work with the teacher on things like extra time and locating what aspects of the homework take more time. I was a slow reader and hearing things read out loud usually meant I got most everything in the first time I heard the text read to me.
Punishment based assignments are a different story. We sometimes had them when I was in middle school and high school. I hope the practice has lessened significantly over the years. There is clear research showing that the last thing you want to do is associate learning with negativity. But should you encounter this, immediately bring it up with the teacher to make sure there has not been a misunderstanding. If you find that extra homework is being assigned as a form of punishment ask that the practice be stopped and explain why. If the teacher won’t listen go to the principle. This practice of using homework as punishment is rare, but it does happen. I have personally encountered the use of highly negative reinforcement (punishment) to try to get students to read. All I can say is that the teacher was young, quite inexperienced, and not being supervised properly.
Finally, it can not be said enough that YOU are the most important key to your child’s success in school (ADHD or not.) Studies have shown again and again that the most successful, well adjusted students have parents who are involved with their learning. I hope this long post helps you. Please feel free to write comments on your own experiences and strategies in this area.