Why is homework so difficult for ADHDers, asks Ben Isaacson

I know what it’s like to skip homework day after day. As a child growing up with ADHD, I was fortunate to have parents who were very laissez-faire. But had they been pushy parents, I assure you I wouldn’t have got much done anyway. There’s this feeling, I like to call it the ‘I can’t be bothered’ feeling, which prevails every time I try to concentrate. On the rare occasion when I’d beat the ‘I can’t be bothered’ feeling (like on the evening before an exam) you can rest assured that it would be back again the following day. On top of this there are all the other challenges of executive dysfunction such as forgetfulness, working memory, inattention and time management, which don’t make things any easier. Many children I work with are so tired when they arrive home from school that they have barely any energy left in the tank. This is common for ADHDers, as it usually coincides with when their medication starts to wear off.

Processing modalities—ways of maintaining focus
From my experience, there are several strategies that can help. It’s important to understand however, that each child is different and will be energised depending on their individual strengths and processing modalities, whether they be auditory, kinaesthetic, visual or tactile. For example, one of my clients does their homework using coloured marker pens (visual), others can only complete reading tasks while listening to ‘white noise’ (auditory), while others prefer a ‘POP IT’ toy or Thinking Putty (kinaesthetic). There’s nothing wrong with applying two items at the same time. One of my students discovered that she focuses better when using a scented diffuser (nasal) together with an hourglass timer (visual) to help with her time management. These are just a few ideas that can make a big difference.

As you may know, ADHDers hate being told what to do. That is why it can be so useful to give them a flexible timeframe. Give your child ownership by asking when they’d like to complete their homework. Obviously, giving them the whole weekend is too prolonged a window. The homework won’t get done. However, offering a two-hour timeframe for your child to complete an hour’s worth of work, allows them to approach it in their own way. It also helps the child to psych themselves up for the unwelcome experience. This will make the transition from recreation to homework that little bit easier. If your child struggles to move away from the screen, then other interventions may be necessary.

Reward Schemes
Many children with ADHD aren’t motivated by the long-term rewards of education. ADHDers need something ‘instant’ to look forward to, whether it be screen-time, a tasty treat, a gadget or a packet of stickers for their collection. An instant reward has the effect of stimulating the brain in the short-term. One child I coach has an arrangement whereby for each evening of completed homework, they receive 30 minutes of allotted screen time. Reward schemes like this don’t make homework more enjoyable, but it at least gives your child a reason to do it.

Then there is the incentive of accountability. Many children find it easier to concentrate when among their peers. This is why after-school homework clubs are so popular. If homework clubs aren’t your child’s thing, then perhaps they can use a ‘body-double’. If your child has a friend who also has ADHD, then perhaps they can take it in turns to go to each other’s houses and complete their work together. If two people are working together, there’s a higher level of accountability. There is a set place and a set time to get things done.

Coaching or Mentoring
If your child continues to struggle, it might be worth getting one-to-one support from someone who understands your child’s ADHD. A personal coach or mentor can help your child get organised at the start of the week, breaking everything down into manageable tasks. The child also benefits from checking-in with someone once or twice a week who can provide calm, encouragement and accountability.

Ben Isaacson
Author: Ben Isaacson

Ben Isaacson
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Ben Isaacson is ADHD Kids Coach and Director of ADHD Confident.



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