Sunday, June 3, 2012

Homework and ADD

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk with a family: mom, dad, grandma, and 12 year old boy. The boy was well-mannered and seemed like a normal child. His mother told me that they had had ongoing problems with him at school. He did well in class, but did not get his homework done. His mother was called in by the school starting around third grade. She told the teachers that he had trouble focusing on the work and thought he might have ADD. The teacher scoffed, the demands kept coming in, and homework would go on all night long. In fourth and fifth grade, the same. Then in sixth grade, his teacher decided he had ADD and, based on that opinion, the school did a 180 and was now pushing hard for diagnosis and treatment. In effect, his teacher wanted this boy to take medication. She did not want to revise the requirements. The child did not seem hyperactive to me and his mother made the point that he had ADD, not ADHD. I shared my thoughts that homework time should be capped and that it is an error to conceptualize the problem just as the child not getting his work done. Rather, we should conceptualize the problem as the child is spending too much time on homework. Reduce the required time and the child is more likely to comply and more likely to actually get some work done. If this child is inattentive at school, he was certainly paying attention to what I was saying and eagerly and appropriately joined our conversation. He seemed very willing to work for an hour if he could then be free, and his parents seemed to think that would work for them as well. I don’t know if this child has ADD. I didn’t get the feeling that he did and it is an overly diagnosed condition these days, but, who knows? It would require more information than I had in this fairly casual context to know. But the point is that this was an average seeming family with competent parents, certainly capable of looking at their son and making decisions on his behalf, and if they are battling with him long into the night, not because they choose to but because they feel forced to, they cannot really help and guide their child. I mentioned to the parents that they should make the decision to cap the time. I shared with them the norm in education, an hour per night per grade, which could be used as a standard. I suggested that they make that decision, firmly and not subject to negotiation, and see what the teachers do. In my experience, even if they don’t agree with that decision, many teachers will modify their demands once the parents are clear this is the decision they have made. I also point out, that if their child truly had ADD, that could also be the basis for constructing a 504 plan. I cautioned them that the one problem with a 504 plan is that most schools are not yet aware of the model I promote, so 504 plans often include “more time,” not “less work.” The other issue with ADD, which did not seem appropriate for this particular family since this child’s “ADD” was either non-existent or mild in nature, is that children with true ADD or ADHD, need even lower time caps on homework than ordinary children need. I’ll explain that piece in a future blog post.
Dr. Kenneth Goldberg is a clinical psychologist with 35 years of professional experience in dealing with many different psychological issues. He is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers and currently works in his own private practice.

Visit the The Homework Trap website

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