Geri, dealing with homework is a common concern for parents of children with ADHD. As you know, ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is common in young children, especially boys. Children with ADHD can be very active, and have difficulty controlling their behavior and paying attention at home and school. To help children with ADHD, collaboration among parents, doctors and the school is crucial. Here are some tips:
1. Family support
Everyone needs to try to be understanding and patient. It can be helpful to set up structure in household routines to help your child know what to expect and to help prevent misbehavior. Children with ADHD benefit from having a consistent daily schedule for waking up, eating, going to school, doing homework, getting physical activity and going to sleep. They also benefit from having positive, supportive relationships with parents, other family members, teachers, coaches and friends. It's also good for them to have opportunities to pursue interests that they can be proud of, such as sports, drama, music or art. In addition, behavior therapy, where parents provide rewards for desired behavior and consequences for misbehavior, can be helpful.
2. Educational help
It's important that you work closely with your son's teacher. The teacher may have had experience with other children with ADHD and have suggestions to help your son with his homework. Some teachers recommend that the child keep a notebook where the teacher or child writes down assignments, and the teacher can send daily or weekly reports for parents to review. Many families find it helpful to designate a homework space at home (a desk or table) that is uncluttered and without distractions (no music or TV). Rather than do an hour straight of homework, it can be helpful to divide the homework into smaller sessions and take short breaks in between. Some parents prefer to have the child complete the homework as soon he gets home from school, but others prefer to give the child a break first with a snack, physical activity, game or music. Remember to encourage your child to do his homework, but you don't need to make sure it's perfect. If he is having difficulty understanding something, his teacher needs to know so she can work with him on it.
Although you have noticed that your son is very bright, some children with ADHD also have learning disabilities. Sometimes they can be subtle, such as visual- or auditory-processing problems, which make learning more difficult. The earlier you determine whether your child has learning disabilities, and the earlier he gets the help he may need, the better. You can request that your public school district evaluate him. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), all children are entitled to a free, comprehensive evaluation through the public school district. If the evaluation identifies any learning disabilities, your son would be entitled to an Individualized Education Program (IEP) through the school's special education department, with the learning assistance that he may need, such as daily sessions with a learning specialist.
If your son is not found to have any learning disabilities that qualify him for an IEP, he could still be eligible for accommodations in school through a 504 Plan (named after Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act) for children with other health impairments, such as ADHD, that cause an educational disability. School accommodations might include seating your child closer to the teacher and the blackboard, providing him more assistance during instructions and transitions and making time during school to help him with homework.
We don't yet understand all the causes, but many children with ADHD have differences in the chemicals that send messages in their brains. Certain stimulant medications (e.g., methylphenidate and dextroamphetamine) can help them focus their attention and control their behavior better. The medications come in different doses and higher doses can have a greater effect. The medications also come in different formulations called short, intermediate and long-acting or extended-release. The longer-acting formulations have an effect for a greater number of hours during the day. Short-acting formulations are usually taken two to three times a day, intermediate forms one to two times a day and long-acting forms once in the morning.
Work with your doctor to determine the best medication, dose and formulation to help your son through the school day and afternoon homework time. The doctor might recommend a longer-acting or extended-release formulation, or a short- or intermediate-acting formulation to be given in the morning and another dose at lunchtime or after school. Since the medications can also have side affects such as decreased appetite, jitteriness and sleep problems, it's important to work closely with the doctor to adjust the medication and dose to maximize the positive effects and minimize negative effects.
For more information on ADHD, visit Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) at www.chadd.org.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.