By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder that is typically diagnosed by age 12 (although children are born with it). About 4% – 12% of schoolchildren have ADHD.
As any parent of a child with ADHD realizes, it causes “trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active,” states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Understandably, settling in for a long session of homework is tough for these children — and the parents who are trying to get this to happen.
“It’s about creating and maintaining structure for students,” said Tom Colabufo, superintendent of schools for Central Square Central School District. “Parents ask me this a lot and their children have been diagnosed or when they’re not diagnosed, and they can’t maintain focus. Establish when the students are going to do their homework and keep it at the same time of day. Communicate clear rules and expectations so they’re not overwhelmed. What often happens with ADHD is they start a task, don’t complete it and jump to another task and never finish. They have five or six tasks going on and none are completed. Then they get overwhelmed. They really need to make sure they’re not adding multiple tasks.”
Breaking apart tasks makes them much easier to complete instead of trying to tackle the whole thing at once. For example, have students finish one worksheet or one row on a worksheet at a time instead of stating, “Do your homework.”
Schooldays include many transitions from activity to activity all day. This can prove difficult for many children with ADHD. Colabufo said that modeling this transition at home can help children while they’re at school, such as saying, “We’re going to stop this activity and then to that activity” so that at school, that kind of transition and structure seems normal.
Parents should also help their children prepare for success by ensuring they get enough sleep.
“When parents say, ‘My child has ADHD,’ and I ask about their sleep pattern, some parents say they go to bed by 10 and they take away their devices at 11,” Colabufo said. “These are children. They shouldn’t be on devices. Their sleep pattern is so important. Even if a child isn’t diagnosed with ADHD, all children need good sleep patterns.”
Well-rested children are better able to regulate their own behavior, including focus on schoolwork more readily.
It also helps to have the right environment for studying. Colabufo recommends a room that has no TV and a reduced amount of activity as ideal. A reading nook with a lap desk may be suitable. Sometimes, finding the right spot relies upon the time of day, such as the kitchen outside of mealtimes.
“They shouldn’t listen to music unless it’s soothing and allows them to calm down,” he added “Focus is key. Kids with ADHD are already hindered with the ability to focus so those distractions need to be removed as much as possible.”
Some children like blocking out ambient sound with white noise to sharpen their focus.
Although a traditional homework set-up is a desk and chair in a quiet room, if another position helps, go with that. Some children prefer sitting on an exercise ball, where the wobbly posture lets them wiggle. Others like standing to complete work at the kitchen counter.
“Plan to study around medication,” said Rita Worlock, licensed clinical social work in private practice in Syracuse, works with people with ADHD. “Motivate with rewards and ensure homework is handed in.”
All diagnosed children qualify for a 504 plan, which accommodates their disability at school. Some children with ADHD qualify for an individual education plan, which parents can discuss with their district’s special education department. The IEP can provide helpful resources and services.