If your child has ADHD, it goes without saying that you’re committed to helping them become successful, resilient and to overcome their academic challenges. But on average, students with ADHD say that 80 percent of their interactions at school are negative ones.
Whether that’s because of how they feel about themselves, their surroundings, their peers or just school in general, it means they spend the majority of their day feeling negative.
And there’s one issue in particular where this negativity tends to manifest itself most: homework.
With ADHD, homework can become a real struggle. But what we also know, is that it’s not a problem that can’t be overcome if we take the right steps.
Below are three keys to success for students with ADHD, including different ways ADHD manifests itself and approaches to homework and studying that will move your student in the right direction.
Know how ADHD manifests itself in your child
It is important to know how ADHD affects your child before you can choose the best approach to help them succeed academically.
For example, in an interview with Pat Quinn, M.D, the author of “Understanding Girls with ADHD,” she discussed how ADHD can manifest itself differently in girls than it does in boys.
More often than not, you hear ADHD and you think disruption. However, that is not always the case, especially when it comes to girls. Girls with ADHD may actually tend to be more shy and withdrawn.
This is because when their minds wander away from the task at hand, they’re more inclined to not want you to know they’re not paying attention. As an avoidance strategy, it’s more straightforward to stay quiet.
Alternatively, with boys (generally speaking, of course) the research shows they tend to manifest their ADHD symptoms more externally, whether through running around, interrupting vocally, or actively misbehaving. But it would also be a mistake to characterize all boys with ADHD in this way, because there are many who don’t exhibit this behavior
The bottom line is this: Every case is different. You know your child. So it’s essential to try to best understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to schoolwork to determine which strategies are appropriate, and which don’t seem relevant.
Be the “Charismatic Adult”
Studies show the top differentiator between students with behavioral, attention or learning disorders who succeed and those who do not is the presence of a “charismatic adult” in their life. As psychologist and researcher Julius Segal notes, “From studies conducted around the world, researchers have distilled a number of factors that enable such children of misfortune to beat the heavy odds against them. One factor turns out to be the presence in their lives of a charismatic adult — a person with whom they identify and from whom they gather strength.”
Reflect on your own experiences: How did you get to where you are today both personally and professionally? Did you have a charismatic adult in your life who encouraged and believed in you?
Being this figure in a child’s life does not mean being Mother Theresa, but it does require taking an interest in the child and their strengths rather than focusing on his or her shortcomings. And when mistakes and failures do happen, it means helping them work through them constructively so that they walk away from the situation knowing more than they did before and feeling positive about the experience.
Set them up now with healthy homework and study habits
For most kids with ADHD, homework and studying are filled with dread and excuses, but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s break it down by topic so we can really hone in on how to help develop these essential habits that will carry them to success now, and later in their academic careers.
ADHD and Procrastination
Your child constantly procrastinates, even after dozens of reminders. How can you get him more excited about homework and completing it earlier?
Step 1: Have a predictable schedule
Allow a 30-minute break after school before getting started on homework. When kids know what to expect, they are less likely to procrastinate.
Step 2: Consider the “Tolerable 10”
Set a timer for just 10 minutes and encourage them to work as hard as they can until the time runs out. This helps give them a push to get started, and after the 10 minutes is up, they can either take a short break or continue for another round.
ADHD and Time Management
Time management is the enemy of kids with ADHD. Your child is smart, but when it comes to completing assignments, they can take hours longer than the instructor intended. How do you help them minimize distractions and encourage productivity?
Step 1: Make a game plan
Break homework or projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. Check-in, and make a big deal when he’s accomplished one or a set of tasks. For many kids, time is too abstract of a concept. Consider using candy or baseball cards and letting him know he’ll be rewarded when the task is complete.
Step 2: Help prioritize
Ask what they will do first to help them get started. Make sure they understand the directions and can do the work. Then, let him go at it alone but stay close by so you can help if needed.
Step 3: Use a timer
Once you have broken up the assignment into more manageable pieces and helped prioritize their work, set a timer and encourage them to work in short spurts (see the “Tolerable 10” above). Then slowly make the time longer, but never more than 30 minutes.
ADHD and Missing Assignments and Instruction
Either they miss the teacher’s instructions, forget homework and books, or sometimes just ignore assignments entirely. How do you ensure homework and assignments are getting done without seeming overbearing?
Step 1: Trust but verify
Set expectations, rewards and consequences for completing homework and assignments. Then verify with an online grading portal if one is available. Communicate with teachers if necessary, but always do this with your child so that they’re involved in the process.
Step 2: Tie privileges to effort
Link things like screen time and hanging out with friends to the amount of time spent studying and doing homework, rather than outcomes like grades. Kids can see the direct correlation between working and learning and a benefit … rather than feeling overwhelmed by the idea of getting better grades, when they may not know exactly how.
Step 3: Talk to teachers about emailing assignments and homework
Kids with ADHD and executive dysfunction may benefit from having the option to submit homework online or through email. They can focus on one thing at a time, and submit it right then and there, rather than having to wait, organize and bring it into school to turn in.
ADHD and Distractions
Pulling your child back into study mode from a break or video games seems near impossible. So how do you pull them away from those distractions to focus on homework?
Step 1: Put a limit on breaks
Kids may need a break after a long school day. For elementary-aged kids, a 30-minute break after school should do the trick. Older kids may need more time to “chill” after school is out, but ideally, assignments and studying should start before dinner time. Use this to have them indulge their break time, while still setting boundaries.
Step 2: Control screen time
Limit breaks to outdoor activities or things that don’t involve a screen. Video games and social media are specifically designed addictive and hard to detach from. So allow a mental break, but don’t let them make things harder on themselves than they need to be by getting wrapped up in something that’s hard to pull away from.
ADHD and Homework: What’s next?
The best way to ensure your child will be ready for the independence they crave is to back off slowly, but stay supportive. Set up weekly meetings and discuss upcoming assignments and offer support. You’ve guided them through this far and it is time to let them take the wheel … just make sure they don’t head off in the wrong direction.
Ann Dolin is a former Fairfax County teacher and current founder and president of Educational Connections Tutoring, serving the D.C. area.