Saturday, July 14, 2012

Homework, ADHD, and the life span problem

I read an article in the Denver Post entitled “Advocate for your child withinschool systems.” The article reports one parent’s experience with a child who has ADHD and the difficulties she had over her first ten years of education. The parent then came across a brochure, “My Child Hates School … and I Do, Too.” I don’t have a copy of that brochure but it appears that this parent finally learned that while the school was not providing accommodations, her child could have protections based on this developmental disability.

I think all parents should have this information, but I also think that it is critical that we go further and understand what protections help and are actually needed.

For the most part, protections come in the form of a 504 or IEP. They can only consist of provisions and accommodations of which the school is aware. Considering the 504 plans I’ve reviewed, it appears to me that they mostly consist of good teaching practices, which should be used for all students, and a few specific ones for the ADHD child – e.g. extra time, preferential seating, tape recording, hard copy instructions. I have yet to see a 504 plan that includes homework relief.

Without homework relief, the 504 will be highly ineffective for the child with ADHD. That child may or may not be medicated. Either way, the child will be struggling to hold it together through the full school day. That child needs relief, not more work, when he or she gets home. That child does not need extra medication since it will invariably interfere with appetite and sleep. That child needs to play, to burn off steam, and to get refueled through a peaceful home that offers respite and relief.

The problem with more time is that it is absolutely meaningless as an accommodation at home. At school, more time is actually redistributed time within a fixed school day. The child may go to school from 9 to 3. If he or she spends an extra 15 minutes completing a worksheet or test, that is 15 minutes less of other things to do. If the student takes the SAT, it is not a problem to stay into the afternoon to finish a test one Saturday of the year.

But where does the extra 15 minutes, or ½ hour, or couple of hours come from when the assignment is sent home? Maybe extra time means no penalty for handing the assignment in a few days late. But as long as the assignments keep piling up, there is no true accommodation at all.

My general formula for homework trapped children involves time bound homework. For children with ADHD, I strongly recommend an even shorter period of time.

When you go for your 504, keep this formula in mind. More time at school; less work at home.

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.

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