Black chalkboard with HOMEWORK written in white chalk
ADHD,  Neurodiversity

6 Strategies Parents of ADHD Kids Can Use to Help Their Children With Homework

Homework is HARD for Our Kids!

Most kids don’t enjoy homework. Who can blame them-they’ve been in a classroom all day, come home, and now they have to do more school work??? This is even harder for an ADHD or autistic kiddo who’s expended so much effort and energy fighting against their natural instincts to mask and fit in…when these kids get home, they’re even more done than their neurotypical peers.

Homework has always been challenging in our house. I hated seeing my kid so miserable, and I felt like a failure because I couldn’t get my kid to sit down and practice ten spelling words. I did an expectation and strategy reset. I didn’t lower my expectations (ADHD and autism=different, not less), I changed them. The strategies that we were using also changed to fit Eric’s unique personality and learning style.

If you’re ready for a homework reset, continue reading to learn about the strategies I’m still using. They’re easy, quick and (dare I say it) fun for kiddos that are resistant to homework, whether they’re ADHD, autistic or neurotypical! Disclaimer-I am not an educator, just a mom with a full-time job who doesn’t want to fight over homework every night. My son has a wonderful teacher, a supportive principal, and an IEP. I encourage you to connect with your child’s teacher or principal if there are challenges that strategy tweaks do not fix. The products I have chosen to link to are products that I personally use-I’m not compensated in any way if you choose to make a purchase. This is not an ad or a sponsored post.

Explain the Purpose and Expectations

Tell them why-If we are told we have to do something, we want to know why we have to do that thing, right? Our kiddos have the same need, even more so with ADHD and autism. Helping them understand the purpose of the assignment will decrease their frustration. Here are some examples of the whys behind homework:

  • Extra practice-new things can be hard, and practice helps us get better.
  • Space to ask questions-children may be more comfortable asking a parent questions.
  • Test preparation-think about this like sports practice or music practice to prepare for a game or concert. Going in warmed up is better than going in cold.
  • Rewards-some teachers offer rewards for completed homework tasks, and rewards are fun!

Set Expectations-Anxiety and ADHD can create a desire for perfection and intense fear of failure and disappointing others. This negatively impacts a child’s ability to learn new concepts and skills, develop self-confidence to allow themselves to make mistakes, and the resiliency to learn from those mistakes. Let your child know that you’re looking for effort not perfection. Trying their best is what counts. Keep in mind that their best may be different from day to day!

Create a Routine

ADHD and autistic kiddos THRIVE on routines-they need to know what is coming next and what to expect. They like “sameness”, tend to be rigid and can have trouble with changes in schedules or more flexible schedules. A simple after-school routine that allows controlled choices is a great strategy. Here’s ours:

Here’s some tips to create a routine that will be successful:

  • Involve your child and tell them why-Ask them to help you make the after-school routine, and explain why you’re doing it. I told Eric that we were making an “after-school checklist” so that there wouldn’t be fighting about homework. He said, “that would be good.”
  • Offer controlled choices-Kids like to be in control of their environment. If you ask them to be involved in making the routine but don’t allow their input, it defeats the purpose. If there’s ten tasks on the list, let them choose the order they’re completed in; let them choose between fruit or Goldfish for their snack; even if they choose the pencil they use for spelling, every choice they get is empowering.
  • Make it Visible-Once you’ve agreed on the routine, write it down (or use picture symbols, whatever’s most appropriate for your kid) and place it in a visible location near your homework spot (read more on that below) or your “command center,” if you have one. Pro tip-I suggest laminating, using cardstock, or even putting the routine in a zip-top bag. Kids will get frustrated, and if your kid tends to “grab and throw,” this can save you from having to make a new copy.

Want a FREE editable afternoon routine template? Use the sign up form below!

Designate a “Homework Spot”

A designated location to complete homework reinforces the mindset and routine-“I do my homework at the kitchen table so I can practice multiplication before I watch TV.” I encourage you to be flexible and think outside the box. Schoolwork doesn’t have to be done at a table or desk (mind.blown)! Maybe your kiddo is more comfortable laying on the floor to do his math worksheet-great! Perhaps your daughter likes to read sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the couch-fantastic! Your son might concentrate on his spelling words best when he spins in circles-wonderful! My point is, grown-ups tell each other “you do you” all the time-let your kids do what feels best for them.

Be Organized-keep homework supplies in a tote bag, basket or container in the homework spot for quick accessibility. We use this cart and it works great (get the lid, it’s worth it).

Lean Into Special Interests and BE CREATIVE

If you’ve been around the autism and ADHD block, you’ve heard the term “special interest.” This is a topic, concept, activity or thing that your child is drawn to and shows up in every area of their life. This is actually what led us to an autism evaluation-an unusually deep interest and fixation on World War II and military history…as a kindergartener (Eric gave the psychologist a lecture on Napoleon Bonaparte).

Whatever your kiddo’s interest is, use it! I guarantee they will be more receptive and put forth more effort if the material is presented in an interesting way. Here are some considerations:

  • Math-reframe problems using whatever they’re interested in. We often use our pet cats or penguins as the subjects of math problems, and the problems involve counting their toys, treats or fish. Call out math when you see in in a TV show they like-“Hey, Ahsoka has two squadrons of three ships chasing her-how many ships does she have on her tail?”
  • Writing-If the assignment allows, write about their special interest. Cats, penguins, Frankenstein, soccer, Harry Potter…whatever gets them excited and engaged.
  • Spelling-Use the words in a short sentence that relates to their interest. This will help with recall and differentiation between “trick words” like “knight” and “night.” Draw pictures, if it makes sense (a cat with a rat wearing hats, for example).
  • Reading-this one is the easiest because it’s the most flexible (usually). Make sure you know the teacher’s expectations-if the assignment is to “read for 20 minutes,” does the child have to read the books, can they listen to you read, can you take turns? When Eric was in first grade, he struggled with reading. I got creative and contacted a cat shelter and asked if he could come once a week and read to the cats (animals don’t care if you make a mistake). He LOVED IT and his reading improved by leaps and bounds.

Use Manipulatives and Other Supports

Manipulatives is a fancy word for physical objects used to teach concepts. They’re commonly used in math so that a student can manipulate the objects and explore the concept in a hands-on manner. If you Google “manipulatives” you will find many links to specialized education resources. While I appreciate (and like) these items, any object can be a manipulative if you’re creative. Check out these ideas that incorporate items you already have or can get for free:

  • Math manipulatives: Legos (I suggest sets of ten in the same color and similar shape), small snacks (Cheerios, Goldfish, Ritz Bitz, marshmallows, M&Ms), little action figures or toys (plastic army men, animals, small bouncy balls), fidget poppers and pom poms are my favorites. These can be used for counting, sorting (use an egg carton to hold little bits), addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Fidget poppers were the first non-traditional tool that we used and it worked so well. Paper tools that I keep handy are a 100s chart, number line (bonus if you make a character that is related to your kiddo’s special interest to jump the numbers), and plenty of paper and markers in different colors. The contrast helps isolate each part of the problem or concept.
  • Spelling manipulatives: old Legos (or Duplos) with letters written on them, fill-in the missing letter games and letters on slips of paper (use these if your child struggles with handwriting-they can move the letters around to make words. I laminated mine and kept them in a ziploc bag).
  • Vocabulary and sight word manipulatives-make two sets of words, cut them out and play Memory, use fill-in-the-blanks like Mad Libs (make your own with those special interests) or make up sentences with the words in them.
  • Writing-if your child is struggling with proper letter formation, you can print special worksheets that have images as well as lines to guide handwriting. You can also use lined notebook paper and create your own by highlighting one row (the lower-case letters go here and capitals go into the row above).
  • Rewards systems-if your child needs an extra incentive to put forth their best effort, explore a reward system. This doesn’t have to cost money-it can be an extra 15 minutes of TV or gaming, and extra bedtime story, or playing a game with a parent.

Be Flexible and Take Breaks

Homework time won’t always be fuss-free, no matter what you do. Keep these options in your back pocket to deal with arguments if (and when) they arise:

Use timers-a visual timer is a great tool to help kids determine how much time is left in a timed assignment, like “read for 20 minutes.” The timer on a microwave, stove, or your phone works, too!

Take breaks-if your child is getting frustrated, offer a break. Use that timer to track the length, then resume the assignment. Pro tip-don’t force a break if your child says no.

Call it quits-don’t lose sight of the why and your expectations for homework. The goal is to reinforce concepts with practice and for your child to give their best effort. If you’ve been trying to get your child to practice their spelling words for 30 minutes and the child is laying on the floor crying, this is not a battle you need to fight. Put the homework away and try again another day. If your child struggles with homework daily, I recommend starting a conversation with your child’s teacher to explore options. Homework shouldn’t feel like torture.

Putting Strategies Into Practice

There you have it-I hope you’ve found a couple strategies within this list that you’ll be trying out in your house to make homework time smoother and more enjoyable. Don’t try everything all at once-pick one or two to try, and if they don’t work, try something else! Let me know what works for you, and if there’s a tip that I missed that you want everyone to know about in the comments!

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