Thursday, July 19, 2012

Homework and ADHD

I came across this article reporting on a school district that got cited for its inappropriate handling of discipline with a student who has ADHD. The ruling generates varied responses from people with different points of views. Interestingly, homework is not addressed in the article or the responses.

I frankly feel sympathetic to the teachers, the school district, the parent and the child. I think everyone has legitimate concerns and no one is really wrong. Teachers need to have control in their classrooms. Students need access to a good education. Children should not be humiliated for behaviors that are out of their control. Other students need order in the classes they attend. Undoubtedly, the school district will promulgate policies and procedures to comply with this report. I truly doubt that anyone will consider how homework may be the fuel that continues to stoke the fires.

The first and foremost intervention that children with ADHD need is homework relief. Without it, there is a tendency to continue to medicate them into the afternoon and evening, disrupting appetite and interfering with sleep. They lose the capacity to unwind and burn off energy that’s been pent up trying to keep it together through school during the day. They lose the respite they need by having a calm home, instead getting pressured to continue working after they get home. They lose the support they need from loving parents who are forced into the role of taskmasters. And this occurs in the absence of any clear, verifiable evidence that homework contributes to a child’s education.

I’m not saying that teachers cannot assign homework, but children need boundaries on the homework they do. They need limited penalties for work which is not done. They need to know that their parents are the final decision-makers for all matters that take place in their home. And, if they have ADHD, they need less or homework or possibly no homework at all.

I think the school district will experience a dramatic reduction in its “behavioral” problems by backing off from relentless demands that children continue doing schoolwork at home. If they insist on giving homework, they should at least give parents more authority in the home, and allow children with ADHD to come to class ready and refreshed even if that means they did not homework at all.

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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