School is back in full swing. For many of us, this means busy schedules that begin with early starts, getting our kids out the door on time, bumper-to-bumper traffic, after school activities and lets not forget, homework. Homework, though it is part of most academic programs, can be a double-edged sword. On one hand we know it is essential for reinforcing skills taught in the classroom. But on the other hand, the task can be daunting and frustrating, turning an already busy day into a maddening headache. Homework takes organization, diligence, attention and patience, which can be difficult for people with Autism. Developing these skills are important, however we can turn our homework headache into happiness by adjusting the tasks of the school day.
Let’s face it, our children’s school days are long and require significant amounts of mental energy; this is no different for people with Autism. From the time they arrive, children are instructed to stay in their seat, focus on the teacher’s lesson and engage in individual and group assignments. During “break- time” they are expected to navigate the playground, a mysterious and chaotic place. Amidst all of the external responsibilities of the school day, people with Autism must tune into their physiological needs (i.e. hunger, wellness and restroom breaks). After the day of navigating all these concerns (and trying their best to keep it together) our children often have extracurricular activities and therapies. When the day is nearly over, we parents then instruct our children to “DO YOUR HOMEWORK!” Do I hear a sigh?
With all that is experienced in the school day, it is understandable that parents of children with Autism see many behaviors including avoidance, resistance and at times, tantrums. Simply put, they are mentally exhausted. As I have worked with many students and their families, I have developed 10 strategies to help families navigate homework headaches.
Solutions to Homework Headaches:
Evaluate how busy your child is. Try to limit activities and therapies to one activity per day. Eliminate any services that are not essential, or where long-term progress has not been seen. This may help the person with Autism to have more energy for homework.
Look at ways to streamline and avoid driving long distances for services. Can the therapist come to the school? Can they come to the home? Is there a closer service provider?
Enlist the help of the school. Consider having the school staff or an older peer do some or all of their work with them. Use a homework club or a study hall elective to complete homework. This then leaves home time for down time.
Work to modify the homework requirements. Eliminate the need for re-writing the writing prompt. Do less. Doing lots of extra repetitive homework is not always required for people with Autism. Consider having them do only odd/even numbered problems or even type their homework.
Set up a structured routine at home. Keep the routine predictable and do homework in the same spot. Eliminate any extraneous noises in order to maximize their focus.
Use a timer to set breaks half way through the homework or more frequently if needed. When taking breaks, go outside for a walk, bounce on the trampoline, swing or listen to music.
Utilize strategies like, “How is your engine running?” (www.alertprogram.com) to help remind the person with Autism to stay in the “just right” zone. This is an excellent program to encourage emotional regulation.
Limit language when the person with Autism is overwhelmed. Utilize non-verbal cues to increase follow through. Language can be a barrier when people with Autism are overwhelmed.
Reward the person with Autism with praise and incentives for task completion. This will help them to feel good about what they have mastered. The incentives can always be faded slowly when more success is observed.
Avoid pushing the person to complete more work at the expense of a melt down and feelings of failure. End on a positive note, so the person can feel accomplished and can integrate a memory of self- mastery. Send the teacher a note and letting them know that the homework could not be completed. Have an agreement for these incidents.
With some work and modifications, you can help your child make homework time a happy time. I hope these strategies are helpful and here’s to greater homework success!
Nicky Palmer, M.S LMFT is director of ASD Consultancy. An agency that specializes in helping people with Autism and their families lead happy, fulfilling lives. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. www.asdhelp.com 562-298-0603