Supporting homework for autistic students

Homework. Love it or hate it (regardless of the evidence around it), most students get given homework. So how can you avoid arguments and frustration at home and support homework for autistic students (and other neurodiversity like ADHD too)?

Homework can cause tension for many reasons.

1. It’s the wrong time and place for homework

Homework is school work that is done at home. For those with fixed mindsets, this can be a big stumbling block, because home is home, not school.

Our son in his last year of primary school recently got set three assignments for his holiday break. He refused to do homework for the first week, because it was HOLIDAYS, not SCHOOL time. His fixed mindset about when and where school work should take place meant he couldn’t do anything connected to school during his holidays.

After school, he also wants to use his home time to relax, do gaming, read, eat and generally chill. He wants afternoons at home as a place and time of day to be for him and his own relaxation, not for MORE school.

2. Homework is too hard/don’t remember

Homework for autistic students can be tricky because it’s not at the right level for them.

The tasks might be too difficult, so cause frustration because they don’t know how to do it and have to struggle along at home with less support and guidance from the teacher.

They might not remember all the instructions given at school. This is a common issue in our household. The task sheet may have some instructions, but additional instructions given verbally in class. An ASD or ADHD student isn’t going to remember those additional instructions. This had led to tension for us around what needs to be done and how.

3. Homework takes too long

Tasks that are too big can take forever.

Firstly, concentration and attention spans are often small for neurodiverse kids. This means you can only do short stretches of homework interspersed with breaks or rewards.

Second, big tasks are overwhelming and need to be broken down into steps or chunks to make them more manageable.

Lastly, there is limited feedback to know if you’re on the right track. Motivation and confidence in big tasks can be impacted and students don’t know if they are doing ‘what they are meant to’.

Homework solutions for neurodiverse students

When you’re stuck at home trying to get homework done, remember to take a step BACS.

B is for Breaks + Rewards

Big tasks take a long time, but neurodiverse kids can’t concentrate that long if it’s not in their interests.

Try setting a timer for 10-20 minutes and only doing sit down work for that long. Then have a 5-10 minute break with a preferred activity or some physical movement. Repeat.

After a couple of cycles of work/rest/work/rest, give a larger reward. Maybe it’s 30 minutes of gaming, or going out to the playground or park.

This may need to be repeated in short bunches of time over several days in order to complete the task.

A is for Accommodations

If your child has a diagnosed disability, they will probably have a plan with school (a One Plan, Personalised Learning Plan or Individualised Learning Plan or some other name depending on the school). This plan should list some accommodations and adjustments the school will make to support your child.

Use these accommodations and be proactive in talking to the teacher about using them.

Maybe you can type out an assignment rather than do it by hand. Perhaps there can be a shorter word count, or remove the requirement for public speaking and assessment of eye contact and tone of voice. Maybe there are options for picking a topic that’s interesting and motivating for your child. Or, perhaps you can negotiate to eliminate the requirement to do homework every day.

C is for Chunking homework

Big tasks, lots of words on a page, and complex instructions can create cognitive overload. Breaking a task into smaller steps is essential to reducing this brain-overload.

You might use a list to break down the steps to writing an Information Report.

  1. Read the page of information (your research)
  2. Make dot point notes of important facts
  3. Re-write dot points into sentences

Setting goals for each work session, instead of or in addition to a list of steps can also help to focus and chunk the work.

In addition, you can chunk by only revealing a small amount of the task at a time. Maybe you can cut up the task sheet into 5 ‘chunks’. Or perhaps only reveal one page of questions at a time.

S is for Supervision of homework time

Attention, motivation, feedback and monitoring (also called meta-cognition) are not executive functions that are well developed in ADHD or ASD children.

Sending neurodiverse children to their bedrooms to do their homework on their own is generally not productive.

Sit children where you are e.g. at the dining table while you’re cooking tea. Supervise them closely so you can help redirect their attention, reduce distractions, keep track of time, and provide encouragement through a touch or verbal affirmation.

Download the BACS Homework infographic as a pdf here.

Conclusion: supporting autistic children with their homework

Homework for autistic students doesn’t have to be a nightmare every day. Use BACS to structure homework time to be productive, to support neurodiversity and executive functioning skills, and be considerate of the individual capability of your child.

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