Tuesday, November 24, 2015

ADHD & Extended Family Ties

How to increase understanding and move forward

guest blog by Janette Patterson, MSW, LCMFT, and Larry Maltin, MA

As awareness grows, we are better able to address the challenges people with ADHD face at school, at home, and in the workplace. Self-help strategies abound, but the focus is usually on help for the immediate family — the child, mom, dad, and siblings. The impact of ADHD symptoms does not stop with the immediate family, however.

What about the concerns and reactions of grandparents or uncles and aunts? Research is lacking on the role and dynamics of the extended family when one or more members have ADHD.

In Taking Charge of ADHD, RussellA. Barkley, PhD, writes: “Parents of children with ADHD also may be deprived of the encouragement, warmth, and assistance of a supportive family. They tell us that they have fewer contacts with their extended family members than in families without children with ADHD, and that these contacts are less helpful to them as parents and more aversive or unpleasant.”

As parents, we want to help our children to become well-functioning and socially successful people. Our own anxieties are sometimes triggered when our children with ADHD act out and misbehave. We desperately want them to behave appropriately and to be accepted.

“Emotional dysregulation” is a term used to describe the struggles that some children with ADHD experience with their feelings. When a situation becomes frustrating, the child's emotional reaction is so intense that he or she feels overwhelmed and reacts with behavior that can range from crying to hysterical sobbing, from whining to screaming, from shutting down to destroying property and harming others. These struggles are debilitating to the child and everyone around.

We all know those painful and awkward moments when everyone at family gatherings is affected. We feel embarrassed and defensive for our child when he gets reprimanded or described as “spoiled” by a relative, and we feel guilty for being unable to prevent these stressful occurrences.

It is painfully clear that misunderstandings, social expectations, unspoken rules, and unresolved family dramas keep us stuck in uncomfortable, maybe even dysfunctional interaction patterns within the extended family.

How do we respond to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins when our child becomes symptomatic at family functions? How can we advocate for our children, but also validate our extended family members’ experience while respecting their opinions and decisions?

Strategies for coping and healing

Much of the research and literature on dealing with ADHD can be helpful for educating our extended family. What strategies make the most sense in managing a family gathering so that our child (and everyone else) can participate and feel comfortable?

1. Educate the family about ADHD. Remember when you first learned about ADHD? What it was like when you were finally able to understand why your son was unable to finish his homework assignments, or why your daughter couldn’t make it through birthday parties without fighting with everyone?

The more you learned about how ADHD affects emotional reactions and behavior patterns, the more you were able to reach out to your child and support him or her in finding workable coping strategies to make things better. It’s the same with extended family. The more we can speak openly with them about how ADHD affects our child (and us) in a way that is understandable, the more we can have meaningful conversations and explore problem solving skills.

2. Develop self-awareness. Find a way to slow down so that you can take a moment to check in with yourself. Practicing mindfulness, for example, helps us become aware of how we feel in the moment, and is a key element for emotional healing and building of coping strategies and skills. For some, this means finding a word or phrase to help them remember to check in with themselves. For others, it might be deep breathing exercises to facilitate the process of self-awareness.

3. Practice self-advocacy. While advocating for our child, we are also aware of our own struggles and experiences. We are aware of our child’s vulnerability to being judged, and that our child is not able to self-advocate. So we need to speak for our family member who has ADHD: “Please remember that it is really hard for [fill in child's name] to sit still—especially when the energy in the room is high. He gets really hyper when people around him are excited.”

In addition to reminding our extended family members, we also need to address our own struggles: “I get so nervous when I see [child's name] become all revved up. It’s really helpful when you can reassure me that you won’t overreact when he gets loud.”

In order to be effective in advocating for our child, we must check in with our family member and make sure that he or she is able to listen. How many times have you experienced rejection and rebuffing from an angry family member? “I don’t care that your son has ADHD! He just broke my flower vase. You have to control him better!”

4. Explore alternative or new ways of communication. We need to explain to our family members that our child’s behavior is not about them, but is directly related to our child’s inability to regulate his or her emotions in the moment. It takes practice, patience and flexibility to work with these highly charged, emotional situations.
Be proactive. Prepare for the next event by having conversations with your relatives before the family gathering.
Brainstorm with your relatives. Include them in the process of exploring how potential stressors can be avoided or addressed before an incident happens.
Be aware of your relatives’ concerns and feelings.
Stay positive!

5. Utilize the best ways to “defuse” behavioral disruptions at family gatherings. Even the best intentions are not always enough. Accidents happen — our child with ADHD can get triggered and disaster unfolds. For example, what could have been done differently in preparing for grandma’s birthday party?
Do “prep work.” Talk with your child before the party and come up with a game plan if things get out of hand: “[child's name], if you start getting all riled up, I will give you a sign that we need to step out of the room so that we can calm down. What sign is better for you? Should I just call your name or should I walk up to you and tap you on the shoulder?” For some kids and for some occasions, it might make sense to negotiate a “deal.” For example, “It’s really important for grandma that everybody shows their best behavior when we celebrate her birthday. If you can stay at the dining room table until we have eaten the cake, then you can get some computer time when we get home.”
Find allies. Before the party you could find some benevolent family member(s) who could jump in to support you in a time of need. For example, grandpa could come to the rescue when your child is unraveling: “Hey [child's name], let’s go in the living room. I want to show you something.”
Be prepared. Keep an eye on your child to check when the behavior is beginning to escalate so that you can step in before it gets out of control. Sometimes you might just need to give a quick reminder: “Hey [child's name], indoor voice, please!” Or you might offer him a distraction: “Hey [child's name], let’s go outside and shoot some basketball hoops!”
Advocate for your child and yourself. Speak up and explain to your family members what is happening and how they can help when your child is in crisis. If your child is in a full-blown temper tantrum, you could say: “Sorry, folks, when the party gets noisy, [child's name] gets overwhelmed. We will see if we can get ourselves calmed down in the other room. Thanks for being understanding.”

Moving forward

As parents of children affected by ADHD, it is our responsibility to develop understanding and mutually acceptable support within the extended family. It is up to you to initiate the conversation. You know your child and yourself. When you reach out to your family members and invite them to explore how you can have a more satisfying family experience, you are creating an opportunity for change.

As James L. Karustis, PhD, coauthor of Homework Success for Children with ADHD, told us: “Extended family members can be a surprisingly excellent source of support. Be clear in communicating what you need from the family member, and remember what you need is likely to change over time. You may need logistical support, such as a family member pitching in to help with babysitting and homework. You may need a person to vent to from time to time.”

Advocating for and supporting your family member with ADHD is an ongoing process. With practice, patience, understanding, and consistency, we can better help our child with ADHD, our immediate family, and ourselves. We can also strengthen the ties to the loved ones in our extended circles of family and friends.

Janette Patterson, MSW, LCMFT, is the co-coordinator of the Montgomery County, Maryland, chapter of CHADD, and a family therapist.
Larry Maltin, MA, is program coordinator for Elkins Park Pennsylvania CHADD. 
This blog is adapted from their June 2014 Attention magazine article. See also their articles in the current October 2015 issue of Attention. Join CHADD and receive every issue!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

More Wit & Wisdom for Naysayer Encounters

guest blog by Marie S. Paxson

When children are younger, it is somewhat easier to disclose that they have ADHD. Some experts feel that keeping a child's ADHD secret contributes to stigma. I’ve heard a special education attorney assert that children may think they have something shameful if during school meetings they hear their parents ask whether information is kept confidential or if the IEP is kept in a locked file cabinet.

The way their peers reacted to my children’s ADHD surprised me a few times. Once a group of boys let my son use a dictionary during a Scrabble game because they knew that spelling was difficult for him. Who would have thought of that — an accommodation for a board game!

When my children became teenagers, I felt they were entitled to confidentiality, and they could choose whom to tell and whom not to tell. Some teens are more comfortable about their ADHD diagnosis than others — I’ve heard psychologists say that during a treatment session a teen will answer a cell phone with "Dude, I'm in therapy. Can I call you right back?"

When you disclose, you may be surprised at how many other people also have the disorder and would like to talk to you about it. But if you are holding back, then your instinct may be telling you that you are dealing with some potentially judgmental people.

Last week I wrote about typical scenarios people with ADHD face when they are put in a position to defend the disorder and how they manage it. Here are some additional examples.

Doubts about adult diagnosis: "You didn't have a problem as a kid, why do you have this now?"

Depending on how old an adult is now, the diagnosis may not have been very common back when he or she was a child or adolescent. Baby boomers certainly had the symptoms, but didn't receive accurate diagnosis and treatment. But regardless of a person’s generation, many supports were in place during their childhood years. Because they had fewer responsibilities and managed fewer details, their childhood ADHD was easier to manage.

Assertions like: “If more kids played outside, there would be fewer diagnoses of ADHD, which is caused because kids watch TV too much.”

There have been some studies indicating that children with ADHD see improvement when they participate in outdoor activities. John Ratey’s book Spark looks at the effects of exercise on the brain, and Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv makes a strong case for the importance of unstructured outdoor activities for child development.

You could respond, “There have been headlines about too much TV causing trouble with attention span and distraction, but they were talking about the distractibility we all struggle with. A diagnosis of ADHD means that symptoms of inattention and inability to tune out distraction are severe enough to be an impairment and occur in a variety of settings. That’s very different from the effects of too much technology.”

What if the naysayer is your spouse? And doesn’t want your child labeled—or treated?

People are afraid of labels, sometimes with good reason. But the child has ADHD whether we acknowledge it or not. Often the best route is to have a third party try to educate your spouse; most likely he or she is tired of hearing it from you.

You could try to have your spouse talk it over with someone he or she respects or go to a well-regarded professional. Perhaps you could introduce some reading material on the subject. When I was a new mom and wanted my husband to read articles on parenting, someone told me to take all the sports magazines out of the bathroom and replace them with books about babies.

You could also bargain for open-mindedness on this topic in exchange for the same deal on the topic of your spouse’s choice. For instance, your spouse will read some literature or watch a video on ADHD for a specific amount of time and you will do the same on the topic of his or her choice.

I have found adults with ADHD to be a good source of insight about childhood issues. Often they inspire a sense of urgency to address ADHD symptoms in childhood because of the impact that the lack of a timely diagnosis had on their lives. There are several books and videos by adults with ADHD on the market, and adults with ADHD often speak at CHADD meetings and conferences.

 Marie Paxson, a past president of CHADD, is the mother of two grown children with ADHD. Over the years, she has been on the receiving end of many myths, misconceptions, and judgmental remarks. Sometimes these were handled with diplomacy, sometimes not. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Dealing with Naysayers, Part 1

by Marie S. Paxson

It is really hard to deal with naysayers, isn't it? I often have to decide is if trying to convince them is worth my time and energy. We all know people who have strong political opinions and will not listen to any other points of view.

Would your time be better spent managing the ADHD instead of trying to convince someone who will never hear you? Can you limit the amount of time you have to spend with people like this? Shorten the duration of mandatory visits— stop in for dessert at holidays instead of the entire meal? If these are people you are required to spend a lot of time with, can you counterbalance by spending time with supportive people?

These are the questions I ask myself when I'm deciding whether to respond to naysayers. The trick is to balance whom to tell about your ADHD and how to say it in a way that gives them a better understanding. And you may want to tailor your responses to the specific remark made, as in the examples below.

In business circles, the rule of thumb is “praise in public; correct in private.” So if you need to let someone close to you know that their remarks are hurtful to you, it is best to do this in private, rather than as an angry reaction in front of others. At the very least you may be able to get the other person to agree to disagree and not make these remarks in your presence.

"ADD is just an excuse!" or "Everyone is ADD!"

I might say something like, “I probably would have said something similar BEFORE my child (or self, spouse, friend, etc.) was diagnosed with ADHD. I feel very differently now.” Or I might acknowledge their perspective by saying something like, "I know it sometimes seems that way. But look at the number of organizations that have determined that ADHD is real. Real science defines ADHD as real disorder.”

"ADHD is an explanation, but not an excuse" is a response that demonstrates that while there may be occasional slip-ups and glitches, the person is actively managing the disorder and doing the best he or she can.

And sometimes I say something along the lines of, "How fortunate that you aren't affected by the disease and have the luxury of disbelief."  You might ask them if they would have this reaction to a physical illness.

Perhaps you can use an analogy to help others display more sensitivity and compassion: “It is so hard when those with Alzheimer’s face memory and organization issues toward the end of their lives. Can you imagine if you had these struggles from day one?”

Rude comments about medication, such as: "Of course your house is quiet! You drug all your kids!"

Sometimes I like to use the word “compassion” in my response. No one likes to be thought of as uncompassionate. And being compassionate doesn’t necessarily mean that one agrees or approve of something, just that one is taking a nonjudgmental stance.

You could perhaps point out that the individual has a documented medical condition that is being helped by medication. You can point out that using the word "drugs" in that fashion is very stigmatizing. Not to mention that a true friend wouldn't want your life to be any more difficult. 

"Others have been successful with ADHD, why haven't you?"

The general public doesn't understand that ADHD has "severities." People tend to understand only the type of ADHD that they’ve been exposed to. Some people have mild ADHD and no co-occurring conditions while others have a severe case of ADHD and very limiting co-occurring conditions.

It can be helpful to point out that people with ADHD have the same rate of having successful lives as the rest of the population. And each individual defines success in his or her own unique way.

Analogies can show similar situations. If you know the person has been affected by any of these conditions, it can help to highlight the individual circumstances of those with ADHD. You might say:
•    Some people manage diabetes with diet and exercise; others need an insulin pump installed in their bodies.
•    Some people with asthma occasionally use an inhaler; others need to be hospitalized.
•    Some people with arthritis can do yoga and take nutritional supplements, while others are in a wheelchair.
•    Some cancers can be managed with watchful waiting, while others require aggressive treatment or surgery. 

These are just a few common scenarios and possible responses. I’ll share more next week.

 Marie Paxson, a past president of CHADD, is the mother of two grown children with ADHD. Over the years, she has been on the receiving end of many myths, misconceptions, and judgmental remarks. Sometimes these were handled with diplomacy, sometimes not.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Redefine Perfect: Handle Homework Hassles IV

by Meghan S. Leahy, MS, NCC

Homework can be very stressful for both adults and students. The best approach is to find a system that works for everyone and make it a habit. Discovering the system that works best can be tricky. It takes experimentation, creativity, and patience. Also, the system needs to be flexible, re-examined, and tweaked over time.

For students with ADHD, the key is flexible structure. Adults have to remember that it is their job to implement this structure for students in a positive manner. It is the student’s job to engage in the homework process and complete the work. This is an important relationship. Adults need to find a balance and model productive behaviors while allowing responsibility for quality homework completion to remain with the student. Students are empowered by adults who can honestly and enthusiastically help them discover success in small, continuous steps.

Here are a few helpful tips:

•    Make a plan. Know what is required; awareness is key. Each night, have the student make a list of all the work that needs to be done, for that night and for the week. Discuss a plan of attack for completion. How will the work be broken down?

•    Use your words and laugh a lot. Research has proven that positive reinforcement is the most successful way to motivate students with ADHD. Avoid negative language and always ask open-ended questions—remember to wait for a reply. Realistically, not too many students enjoy homework. Don’t judge. Address the fact that it is a reality that must be accepted and talk it through. Some students need to vent. Let them discuss how hard life can be—as long as they are talking while they work.

•    Redefine “perfect.” There is no such thing as perfect, so help your students to set reasonable goals that will make them (and you) “perfectly” happy. At the end of each marking period, reward progress, examine setbacks and set new goals.

Meghan S. Leahy, MS, NCC, is the founder and director of Leahy Learning and coauthored the medical textbook Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Throughout the Lifespan (Western Schools, 2014). As a clinical associate at the Penn Adult ADHD Treatment and Research Program at the University of Pennsylvania, she worked with college students and adults. She has also been a clinic director at Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Get Support & Communicate: Handle Homework Hassles III


by Thomas J. Power, PhD

Debate continues about the value of homework and whether homework should be assigned to students, particularly in the elementary grades. Although many arguments have been made in favor of homework, three are especially important.

First, family involvement in education clearly has been shown to have a positive effect on children’s performance in school. Homework provides an opportunity for families to be involved in their children’s education and to help their children to do well in school. Second, the quality of the family-school relationship is critical for school success. Homework is a natural means of family-school collaboration and provides ongoing opportunities for parents and teachers to connect with each other. Third, when students transition into high school and college, they generally need good work habits to be able to work effectively on their own. Homework provides an opportunity for students to develop independent study skills.

The most important question is not whether to assign homework but how to support families with homework. The following are a few points to consider:

It is critical for homework assignments to be adjusted so that students experience high rates of success. Parents have an important role in negotiating with teachers the right amount and type of homework.

Homework can be a battleground that has negative effects on student motivation to learn and the quality of the parent-child relationship. Many parents need training to design a homework routine and use positive reinforcement strategies that will be effective. School guidance counselors and your child’s doctor may be able to offer referrals to a professional who can offer this service.

Homework assignments can be overwhelming to children and their parents. It is usually a good idea to break up homework into manageable chunks or units and to set goals for completion and accuracy for each unit. Subsequently, children can earn positive reinforcement for being able to achieve established goals.

Thomas J. Power, PhD, is professor of pediatrics and education at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Center for Management of ADHD at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He is a former member of CHADD's professional advisory board. He is one of the coauthors of Homework Success for Children with ADHD: A Family-School Intervention Program (Guilford Press, 2001).


by Courtney Calio, MSEd

Students with ADHD feel overwhelmed with the idea of homework. Work outside of the school day requires time management, focus, and self-regulation—all skills that do not come easily for those fighting ADHD. Not to mention that the required task could be difficult, in a content area of little interest, or seen by the child as pointless. These possible culprits are at the core of the all-too-familiar scene: fighting and crying over homework with your child at the kitchen table, plugging through one spelling word or math fact at a time.

The reality is that all children of this generation are required to sustain a daily routine that requires intense academic rigor. Eligible content and high-stakes standardized testing leave little room in the school day to release extra energy or engage in self-selected learning activities. Unfortunately, there is little reprieve from this routine for many children at dismissal time. The transition from school to home, usually with well-deserved extracurricular activities jammed in between, creates a difficult dilemma. How do you explain to your child who has ADHD that he or she must be focused all day at school to do his or her best work, but then must also refocus at home to do more schoolwork?

As an elementary educator, I have come to realize that only so much can be expected at home from all children, that the smallest modifications can reap huge rewards, and that without communication (from teacher, parent and child) the battle is never won. My advice to parents of children with ADHD:

You must communicate with your child's teacher about homework. Determine the exact purpose of the homework. Is the teacher open to differentiating the assignment to meet the strengths of your student? Your child's teacher will not understand any struggles going on at home unless you communicate them and work together to develop possible alternatives.

Consider your child's learning style. Is your child a great artist, musician, or athlete? Does your child love technology? Seek out ways to complete a reading log or memorize spelling words and math facts that involve your child's natural strengths, known as multiple intelligences in the world of education.  Find activities that are enjoyable but meaningful and produce the same results.

Stay positive and involve your child in open dialogue. Involve your child in discussions with the teacher and demonstrate how to communicate and voice struggles. Your child knows he or she has ADHD and it will always present challenges in life. There will be many times when modifications can't be made and when one just has to get the job done. Explain this, each and every time. Show your child that you are advocating for him or her, that you understand, and that learning how to cope and overcome will make him or her stronger.

Courtney Calio, MSEd, teaches fifth grade in the Kennett Consolidated School District in Pennsylvania.

Earlier versions appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Establish the Homework Ritual: Handle Homework Hassles, Part II

by Jim Karustis, PhD

Many years ago I discovered that homework problems can truly rip families apart, and that is no exaggeration. Common complaints include:
  • “My kid will argue for six hours about doing homework that would take her fifteen minutes!”
  • “He says he does his homework at school, then I get hit with surprises at teacher conference time.”
  • “My child really does try, but homework seems to take up all of her time every night.”

Homework can be a silent problem. Many students struggle while doing their homework at home, but as long as they finally complete the work and submit it, the teacher may not even realize that there is a problem. Many well-meaning parents gradually find themselves taking over the lion’s share of homework responsibilities, out of fear that their children will be penalized for incomplete work.

If your child is experiencing significant homework problems, review the basics of what we call the homework ritual. Get clear on the rules yourself, then review them with your child and post them prominently in your home.

As much as possible, homework should begin at the same time each day. There should be a designated, distraction-minimized location. Don’t believe it when your child says he can pay attention better when the television is on — turn it off. Some children do fare better, however, when there is some subdued music in the background — mainly for rote tasks. The homework location should be virtually a sacred spot, set aside only for homework, so that your child can keep materials there and not confuse the location with other activities.

If these elements of the homework ritual have been problematic, then I suggest that you implement an incentive system that targets the troublesome homework-related behaviors — for example, fifteen minutes earned for her favorite video game for beginning homework with one reminder.

The next issue is to keep separate and distinct your roles as homework manager and homework tutor. Managerial duties include the structure of homework time and making sure you know what your child has to do for homework. Once you are confident your child understands the directions, then leave the homework station. Inform your child that you will check back later, but that you expect that he will have completed X number of problems. The assistance with the actual instructional material can come later.

All students should use homework assignment books. Most schools now have websites where teachers can post assignments. While these may greatly reduce the importance of pen-and-paper assignment books, they have variable reliability for some students. If compliance with consistently using an assignment book has been a problem for your child, you may wish to ask the teachers to sign the book on a daily basis. On days when there is no assignment, teachers would write "no homework" and sign off on it. If your child is one of those who says she has completed her homework at school, then make it clear that privileges at home are contingent upon her bringing the work home for you to compare against what is in the assignment book.

If you have these elements in place and still experience significant problems, it may be time to request a meeting of the school’s Instructional Support Team (private schools have equivalent teams with varying names). The IST can assist with basic interventions regarding homework and related issues, and can also begin the process of exploring the possibility of whether your child is receiving instruction consistent with her current level of functioning. For students with ADHD, requesting reduced homework demands is a common and reasonable intervention.

Homework can be put in its place for what it is meant to be, which is a reinforcement of classroom instruction. If it is dominating home life, then try the modifications outlined above, and consider seeking assistance from the IST or a qualified psychologist with expertise in school issues.

An earlier version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!

A psychologist in private practice, James Lorenzo Karustis, PhD, is a member of the professional advisory board for Chester County/Main Line CHADD. He coauthored Homework Success for Children with ADHD: A Family-School Intervention Program (Guilford Press, 2001).

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Handle Homework Hassles, Part I

With schools back in session, we know you want to prepare for the homework blues before they become nightly battles. For the next few weeks, we'll share advice from experts, many of whom are first and foremost parents of children with ADHD. Some have additional expertise as educators, psychologists, social workers, or pediatricians. Let us know what other topics you'd like to read about!

by Maureen A. McQuiggan, EdD

Tips and tricks for surviving the homework wars fill volumes. Strategies intended to “help” with homework often leave both parent and child feeling like they are just adding to the workload. The real key to success with homework rests in identifying strategies that work for all homework all the time. Here are three basic interventions that get the job done and build valuable lifelong habits:

  • Process is more important than product. In recent years, educators have perfected the art of outlining explicitly the product they expect from students. Rubrics and assignment contracts spell out clearly what teachers expect to see handed in. The missing link often rests with the process. Help your child get from “I haven’t even thought about the assignment” to handing in a quality product by creating process cards. Together with your child, outline clear and simple steps to completing the task. Cards for tasks such as learning new vocabulary and outlining reading materials can be used repeatedly to build both confidence and good work habits. Start each step with a motivational check box that can be ticked off for a sense of accomplishment.
  • All reading assignments must be active. Asking a child with ADHD to simply read a chapter for homework is like asking him or her to watch grass grow — many will comply, but in the end the grass and child remain unchanged. If reading assignments are not active, the brain is not engaged, attention wanders, and learning does not take place. Active reading strategies can involve asking students to locate key ideas in the reading, color coding answers to the end-of-chapter questions, or creating questions based on the reading. 
  • Build basic skills. Basic skills are the gifts that keep on giving. Devoting a chunk of time in the summer to targeted basic skills practice such as increasing reading fluency, improving written language skills, or committing math facts to memory will help build your child’s automaticity. Students who read more fluently, compute with speed and accuracy, and write with ease will realize the benefits across all academic tasks.

by Sheila Grant, MS, RN

As a parent, I have experienced the stress and tension of trying to get my kids to complete their homework. When you break it down, the steps required to complete homework can be especially challenging for a student with ADHD:

  1. Figure out the assignment. (Big problem, because it is not always written down.)
  2. Do you have the right materials to complete assignment? (Is the book at home?)
  3. Do you have an understanding of what is required? (Your child may have the assignment, but does not really know what is required.)
  4. Complete the assignment. (This is the hard part.)
  5. Hand in the assignment. (How many times does your child finally complete homework, only to leave it on kitchen table?)

After many stressful nights, tears, and fights, hiring a homework helper was the best thing I ever did for my family when my kids were in elementary and middle school. I hired many wonderful college students and graduate students over the years. Some were studying to be special education teachers.

Once or twice a week, the homework helper sat in the kitchen with my child and supervised homework. The job included going through the backpack to find all of the errant papers, checking assignment books, working on organization, and making sure the assignments were complete and put away in the backpack. I was able to prepare dinner quietly; there were no fights, and my children felt a sense of accomplishment and confidence in their ability to do the work.

Homework helpers do not cost nearly as much as a tutor; figure on paying between $8 and $15 per hour. Here are my tips:

  • If you have a university near you, try posting an ad. There are always students who need jobs and are perfect for elementary age through high school. Mature high school students would work well for elementary-age children.
  • Be prepared to change homework helpers if they do not work out. Look for one that is very organized, very kind, and comfortable setting limits with your child. For example, if you asked my son if he had any homework, he would frequently say no because he simply forgot. The effective homework helper did not stop there, but went through the backpack and the assignment book and almost always found something that needed to be done, even if it was simply organizing school materials or reviewing material. 
  • Ask for an extra set of books to be kept at home. This accommodation should be a part of the child’s IEP or 504 Plan to ensure you get that extra set of books.
An earlier version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!

Maureen A. McQuiggan, EdD, is director of curriculum and professional development for the Radnor Township School District in Radnor, Pennsylvania, and an adjunct professor in special education at Immaculata University. She is a member of the professional advisory board for Chester County/Main Line CHADD and the parent of two children affected by ADHD.

Sheila Grant, MS, RN, is the coordinator of Chester County/Main Line CHADD, where she facilitates the parent support groups. She is a psychiatric nurse on the adjunct faculty of Immaculata University.