by Tim Connell
Many teens are able to tackle some of the online education tasks set for them independently. But what happens if you have a teen with an ADHD diagnosis?
We’re all in the thick of ‘physical distancing’ right now. Parents are juggling what feels like 5 jobs. Their own, and then the education of their children (aren’t teachers incredible?). Parents are encouraged to be kind to themselves, and their children in this time, because everybody is feeling a little anxious. Many experts have used the phrase, “Lower the bar.” Lower the expectations of ourselves and our children.
Do some school work, but ensure that this is balanced with lots of other connection, fun and chill-out time. This is not a normal ‘homeschooling’ set up. It has been coined, ‘crisis schooling’.
Working at home is even more difficult for students with ADHD and many parents have asked for ideas on how to support their tweens and teens. So I approached Tim Connell, a special education consultant, for his best tips. Here is his expert advice:
Why is Working at Home so Difficult for Students with ADHD?
Students with ADHD benefit from the routine and structure of school. Specifically, these routines help to ‘outsource’ some of the executive functions and free up cognitive resource that can now be allocated to Selective and Sustained Attention.
How Can Parents Help?
1. Adults at home can help by replicating as much of the school routine as possible including;
- Getting up at the same time as would be the case for school – avoid getting up at the ‘last minute’ before Period 1 begins.
- Allowing plenty of time to eat, shower and organise their workspace.
- Ensuring they eat a good breakfast – the brain needs glycogen to fuel attention.
- Ensuring they are ready to enter the ‘virtual classroom’ for Period 1.
- Regularly checking in, either in person or text if you’re not at home.
- Ensuring their sleep pattern remains regular. (i.e.getting enough sleep and not going to bed too late.)
- Continuing to follow the treatment plan provided by your clinician/psychologist.
2. What about the work environment?
- The bedroom is probably not the best place to work, as it will usually be full of potential distractions for a teen with ADHD.
- If working in the bedroom is unavoidable then students should be sitting at a desk rather than working on laptop on the bed.
- A work environment should be quiet, uncluttered and all equipment should be within easy reach – a timer is a useful additional piece of equipment. See the Pomodoro Technique, (Collett’s note – this involves working in 25 minute blocks of time. I have recommended this technique to both adults and teens with ADHD, and many have found this very effective.)
3. My child seems to need more breaks at home – is that ok?
Working at home in most cases will be more cognitively effortful. Particularly as students and teachers adapt to this process and lessons become a more consistent balance of video and online platforms.
Regular breaks are an important opportunity to ‘recharge’ cognitively. The danger for students with ADHD is that returning to work after a break is also cognitively effortful and requires some structured support.
- Program short breaks into the day, in advance – ideally after periods of sustained attention (as above).
- Do NOT use breaks to engage in a favoured activity such as gaming, because this makes it much harder to return to work.
- Eat and drink during the break to restore glycogen levels
- Add physical activity into some breaks
- Time all breaks and physically rehearse the process of getting back to the desk and starting work. This helps to build muscle memory and automaticity.
4. Accountability – I feel like I’m nagging all day during this difficult time.
Students with ADHD benefit from being held accountable for their work (Dr Russel Barkley explains this). Adults at home can help by;
- Clarifying exactly what work is due each day/week (Collett’s note – Asking teachers to keep you in the loop can be helpful here).
- Helping to break longer tasks down into smaller, time bound sub-tasks (again, see the Pomodoro Technique mentioned above).
- Using the same high level of specific performance-based praise that occurs at school.
- Agreeing in advance on expected work behaviours and attitudes.
- Agreeing in advance on rewards and sanctions.
- Rewarding work completion and independent organisation as appropriate.
- Implementing consequences for non-completion of work.
5. My child has an IAP/IEP (Individualised Education Plan) at School – what could this look like at home?
In most cases the individual adjustments within each student’s plan will be variations on those described above.
Collett’s Last Thoughts on Supporting your Child at Home
If you or your child are feeling overwhelmed, it is more than okay to have a break and go back to something later. If stress levels are escalating, it is important that you contact your child’s teacher/s. Schools are not expecting parents to have the same level of skill as a trained teacher. Educators are brilliant at adjusting work and schedules according to their students’ needs or abilities, because they want the best for them.
If you need further assistance, Tim offers support by;
- Discussing ways your child’s IEP/IAP can be implemented at home.
- Discussing additional adjustments to communication, environment and curriculum that may be relevant at home.
- Discussing specific scenarios that may be causing concern.