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Aspergers Children and Homework Problems

A major cause of agony for Aspergers (high functioning autistic) students, their parents and educators is the unsatisfactory completion of homework. These children often have an emotional reaction to the mere thought of having to start their homework – and have difficulty completing assigned tasks. There may be two explanations for this: (1) their degree of stress and mental exhaustion during their day at school, and (2) their cognitive profile.

School-Related Stress—

As with their classroom peers, a youngster with Aspergers has to learn the traditional educational curriculum, but they encounter additional learning experiences and sources of stress than do other kids in their class. They have an additional curriculum, namely the social curriculum. They have to use their intellectual reasoning to determine the social rules of the classroom and the playground. Other kids do not have to consciously learn social integration skills, but Aspergers kids have to decipher the social cues and codes and cognitively determine what to do and say in social situations.

Often their primary feedback is criticism for an error with little recognition from others when they make the correct response. Learning only from your mistakes is not the most efficient way to learn. Thus, Aspergers kids have to concentrate on an extra curriculum that leaves them intellectually and emotionally exhausted at the end of the school day.

They also have difficulty reading and responding to the emotional signals of the educator and other kids, coping with the complex socializing, noise and chaos of the playground, the unexpected changes in the school routine and the intense sensory experiences of a noisy classroom. Throughout the school day, they rarely have an opportunity to relax.

It is essential that teachers recognize the degree of stress experienced by Aspergers students, as the signs can become evident in their behavior and mood. The signs include the youngster who is described as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in that the indicators of stress are not conspicuous at school, but the youngster is a very different character at home. They may be quiet and compliant in the classroom, but intolerant and aggressive immediately they return home.

Some Aspergers kids become extremely anxious in the morning before going to school, and school refusal or walking out of school can be a sign of unbearable stress. Other kids can express the signs at school by episodes of extreme anxiety or anger, with incidents of panic or disruptive and explosive behavior. Others suffer chronic stress, which contributes to a clinical depression.

Kids with Aspergers who are having difficulty learning the social curriculum and coping with the stress of school often explain that they want a clear division between home and school. Their general view is "school is for learning, and home is for fun or relaxation." Thus, the prospect of interrupting their much needed and deserved fun and relaxation with homework is more than they can cope with.

Cognitive Profile—

Kids with Aspergers have an unusual profile of cognitive skills that must be recognized and accommodated when they are undertaking academic work at school and home. One aspect of the profile is impaired executive function. The profile is similar to that of kids with ADD in that they can have difficulty planning, organizing and prioritizing, a tendency to be impulsive and inflexible when problem solving and poor working memory. Other features include a difficulty generating new ideas, a need for supervision and guidance and determining what is relevant and redundant as well as poor time perception and time management. There is also the likelihood of an unusual profile on standardized tests of intelligence, especially with regard to verbal and visual intelligence.

Some kids are ‘verbally-oriented’ and have a relative strength in reading, vocabulary and verbal concepts, while others are ‘visually-oriented’ and ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. The youngster’s cognitive and learning profile is usually recognized by school authorities and special provision made for the youngster in terms of an assistant in the classroom to facilitate their academic progress. The educator knows how to adapt the curriculum for a youngster with Aspergers, but this knowledge and service are not usually available at home.

The following range of strategies are designed to minimize the impaired executive function, accommodate their profile of cognitive skills, and help Aspergers youngsters complete their homework assignments with less stress for the youngster and family.

Learning Environment—

1. A daily homework timetable can be made by a mother/father with guidance from the educator to define the expected duration and content of each homework activity or assignment. This can be extremely helpful if there are problems with the youngster’s allocation of time to each homework component. Sometimes the homework can take hours when the teacher intended only several minutes on a specified task.

2. A timer can be used to remind the youngster how much time is remaining to complete each section of homework. It is also important to ensure that time scheduled for homework does not coincide with the youngster’s favorite television program. If it does, they may have priority use of the video recorder and can watch the program after their homework.

3. If regular breaks are necessary to promote concentration, the work can be divided into segments to indicate how much work the youngster has to complete before they can take a momentary break. The usual mistake is to expect too much prolonged concentration.

4. The area where the youngster works must be conducive to concentration and learning. A useful model is the youngster’s classroom with appropriate seating, lighting and removal of any distractions. The distractions can be visual such as the presence of toys or television, which are a constant reminder of what the youngster would rather be doing or auditory distraction such as the noise from electrical appliances and the chatter of siblings. Ensure the working surface only has equipment relevant to the task. Their working environment must also be safe from curious siblings.

Preparation of Homework—

The educator can highlight key aspects of the homework sheet, written material and questions so that the youngster knows which aspects are relevant to their preparation of the assignment. They can ask the youngster to formulate their plan before commencing the assignment to ensure their work is coherent and logical, especially if the homework is an essay. If the assignment takes several days to complete, it is important that the educator regularly reviews the youngster’s rough drafts and progress, which also increases the likelihood that it will be completed on time.

Memory Problems—

1. If the Aspergers youngster has difficulty remembering exactly what was set for homework and remembering relevant information during homework, a characteristic of impaired executive function, a solution is to buy an executive toy. A small digital recorder used for dictation can provide a record of the educator’s spoken instructions and the youngster can add his or her own comments or personal memo to the recording to remind them of key information. The youngster and their mother/father will then know exactly what was said and what is relevant to the task.

2. Another strategy is to have the telephone number of another youngster in the class to ask them for the relevant information.

3. A homework diary and planner can help the youngster remember which books to take home and the specific homework for each evening. An executive diary from a stationary store may make this strategy more appealing to the youngster. The techniques are explained as being appropriate for adult executives rather than for kids with learning problems.


The youngster may have difficulty getting started or knowing what to do first. Procrastination can be an issue and a mother/father may have to supervise the start of the homework. Once the youngster has started, this is not the end of the supervision. A parent will also need to be available if the youngster requires assistance when they are confused and to ensure that they have chosen the appropriate strategy. There can be a tendency for such kids to have a closed mind to alternative strategies and a determination to pursue an approach when other kids would have recognized the signs that it would be wise to consider another approach. A technique to show that there is more than one line of thought is to provide the youngster with a list of alternative strategies to solve the particular problem. The youngster may need to know there is a plan ‘B’.

Moms and dads and educators soon become aware of the degree of supervision required which can be a major problem for a mother/father with other family commitments when the youngster is doing their homework. Supervision is also necessary to help the youngster priorities, plan, assist with word retrieval problems and maintain motivation. Motivation can be enhanced by specific rewards for concentration and effort

Emotional Management—

Kids with Aspergers are notorious for their difficulty coping with frustration and criticism, and their inability to manage their emotions. They can become quite agitated when confused or having made a mistake. A grown-up will need to be available to help the youngster remain calm and logical. The adult will also need to model calmness, which can be difficult when both youngster and adult are confused as to what to do. It can end in tears for both parties.

Cognitive Style—

1. One characteristic is a difficulty explaining their reasoning using speech. The youngster may provide the correct solution to a mathematical problem, but not be able to use words to explain how they achieved the answer. Their cognitive strategies may be unconventional and intuitive rather than deductive. One may need to accept their correct solution even if the logic is unclear to the neurotypical mind. One problem with this characteristic is that it may be difficult for the mother/father to correct the alternative reasoning when the youngster has a ‘mental block’.

2. If the mother/father is unable to help the youngster solve a particular problem, a solution is to come to an arrangement with the teacher where by he/she is contacted by telephone without hesitation as to the time of day or night and they can talk directly to the youngster. Regular use of this approach can lead to a significant reduction in the type and amount of homework.

3. Kids with Aspergers often enjoy having access to a computer and may be more able to understand material if it is presented on a computer screen. Material presented by a person adds a social and linguistic dimension to the situation, which can increase the youngster’s confusion. Educators should consider adapting the homework so that a considerable proportion of the work is conducted using a computer. Word processing facilities, especially graphics and grammar and spell check programs are invaluable in improving the legibility and quality of the finished product.

4. Kids with Aspergers require special consideration when learning new material. Homework should primarily be designed to consolidate and practice known information rather than introducing new concepts.

5. Special consideration should be given to the youngster’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses. If the youngster’s relative strength is in visual reasoning, then flow diagrams, mind maps and demonstrations will enhance their understanding. If their strength is in verbal skills then written instructions and discussion using metaphors (especially metaphors associated with their special interest) will help. Additional strategies include the use of a computer and keyboard, especially for those kids who have problems with handwriting. Sometimes a mother/father acts as an ‘executive’ secretary and types the material for the youngster and proof reads their answers. Homework may be a collaborative rather than solitary activity. The parent is not being over protective or neurotic, they just know that without their involvement, the work would not be done.

6. Teaching a youngster with Aspergers requires special skills and a mother/father is not expected to have those skills. As a parent, one is also more emotionally involved than a class teacher and it can be difficult for them to be objective and emotionally detached. One option is to hire a homework tutor to provide the skilled guidance and supervision. However, this may be beyond the financial resources of most families.

Completing Homework at School—

If homework is associated with a lot of stress and agony, there are a few things that can be done to (a) reduce the despair of the youngster who is exhausted from his day at school, (b) the mother/father who tries to motivate their youngster, and (c) the educator who recognizes that homework is not the most effective means of education for such a child. If the regular amount of homework is demanded of the youngster, then everyone must recognize the considerable degree of time and commitment that is necessary from all parties to ensure it is completed satisfactorily and on time.

One option is to enable the Aspergers youngster to complete his ‘homework’ at school. It can be undertaken at lunchtime and before or after classes in their home class or the school library. However, they would still require supervision and guidance from a teacher or assistant. In high school, some kids have been able to graduate taking fewer subjects and the extra time available in the school day dedicated to homework.

Being Exempted from Doing Homework—

If all these techniques are unsuccessful, here is a last ditch effort: Allow the Aspergers student to be exempted from doing homework – yes, you heard correctly – exempted! If the strategies outlined above are unsuccessful or unable to be implemented, then forget about homework. Sometimes this advice is to the great relief of the youngster, his mother and father, and the educator.


•    Anonymous said… We struggled for so long with this every night it was taking 2 hours to do, most of that was us telling him what to write. We eventually asked his teacher what kind of credit he was getting out of the two hours of work he was struggling to do, she simply said none. I asked my son one day what does she do with your homework when you turn it in? He said nothing she throws it in the trash. Well I told him to stop doing it. So of course he went back to school and when he didn't have his homework done she asked where is it. My son simply said Mom and Dad said I don't have to do it anymore. This was before we had a diagnosis and after a year of right ups and ISS, you name it.
•    Anonymous said… We also have struggled with this for many years our son is now 14 we gave up I would rather have quality time than yelling n tantrums every day especially as we have 3 kids in total homework I believe is not the be all and end all of schooling... With very high anxiety it is not worth the battle.. Hope u find a happy medium.
•    Anonymous said… Homework is a toughie. It's hard after school because our kids need space to recover from the day. I talk to the teachers about giving my son the absolute minimum. Then I use a visual board that sits next to his homework spot and I give him rewards for completing each task. I try to step back and not take on responsibility for it. It is his homework and my goal is to provide the structure and communicate with the teacher if he is to wrecked to do it. I hope this helps but it is hard.

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Anonymous said...

Our 9 year old has a very hard time remembering different things from school -- and gets very confused at the end of the day with what he needs to bring home, etc. The teacher has worked a lot with him and yesterday his counselor suggested maybe using technology (such as an iTouch or iPad) to help keep him organized. He said my son could look at the screen and see a list of things he needs to do each day and that might help. Any thoughts? It's not that iPods or iTouches are cheap & I don't want to buy something and have it not help. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

In my son's school they use homework planners to write down the homework assignments for the day. So I just made a checklist, which I laminated, of all the things he should do at the end of the day. The list includes:

Check homework planner and make sure that any worksheets are in the homework folder.

Make sure you understand what to do for each assignment in the homework planner. If it isn't clear, ask the teacher.

Make sure homework planner and folder are in backpack.

Make sure lunch bag is in backpack.

Make sure water bottle is in backpack.

Then I sent in a dry erase maker with an eraser on the cap so that he can check everything off each afternoon when it's complete. It worked well for him in 3rd grade, but his aides this year (5th grade) say that they don't have time to do this every afternoon and that he is just supposed to take responsibility for it. Hmmm, Aspie with executive skills disorders should take responsibility for this...ACK!

With the results that 2 out of 3 of his homework assignments for Monday were unable to be completed, and that's a common occurrence.

Anonymous said...

My 12-year-old son is in 7th grade. His homework and school papers are turning into a very unorganized mess. Do any of you have a good system? I'm looking at ways to keep his 3-ring binder organized. Also, need a way to put homework papers together that need to be worked on, homework papers that are done and need to be handed in, papers that need a parent signature, papers that are graded but need to be kept for study on a test, etc. I'm going crazy going through all sorts of papers wondering what he needs to work on, what can be thrown away, what he needs to hand in. What works for your kids?

Anonymous said...

My son's handwriting was getting progressively worse so we JUST put him on a point system . 2 points for every neat paper he brings home! After he gets 40 points, he can play any game (Us approved) on his computer. Right now, we do not allow him to use his computer to play any games. So far, he has 15 points and did a beautiful job at school according to his teacher. We were very proud. I am happy that we have not allowed him to play games so now it is like a huge treat to get extra game time. Another mom on this support group uses the point system and it seems to work for her child. Incentives have always worked for our son. We change things up according to his interests. Now, writing has always been a struggle for our son. He can write beautifully when he goes slow! So we are telling him to write slow and be one of the last ones to turn work in and he would be rewarded! I Hope you can find the right incentive. ( :

Anonymous said...

My daughter Sierra is 11 years old and after doing some research I think that she has Aspergers. She bites her nails, doesn't look people in the eye, very picky about food and seems to be in sensitive to the needs of others. She loves to read, play video games and has an amazing memory. Recently, she has not been completing her homework assignments and we had a big fight the other evening where she throughing things at me and tellling me that she hated me. She had come home and wanted to watch T.V. I said you need to do your assignments first before you watch T.V. She did not like this answer and was yelling at me and telling me that that is how she relaxes and that she had a hard day at shcool. When I asked her about what happened, she said that she was tired and didn't have enought to eat. After relentless arguejng, I sent her to her room and she refused. I asked her if she needed help. She still refused so I pushed her along until she was in the room. She also told me that she did not believe in God. I told her at her age, I began to explore religion and that is a good thing to do in order to find what feels right to you. Although, I remember experiences with organized religion that were not positive, my overall concern is that she seems to not careShe did not stay in the room and continued to follow me around the house saying she was "sorry". This has happened a couple of other times, I told her "thank you for your apology, but I what will show me that you care is a change in your behavior next time" I also told her "that I was not going to be treated that way and in our house we discuss our problems and do not have physical fights" . I eventually told her it was time for bed, she told me she was not going to bed. We have a ritual of me laying with her as she falls asleep, I told her that I loved her but would not be laying with her tonight because I wanted to her to know that I will not be treated that way. I closed my door, she camped outside the door and started to weep saying that she loved me. I was mostly quiete and would sometimes say I know you do and I love you too but it is not o.k. to treat me that way.

She does care and I want only the best for her. I have been feeling very frustrated to the point of not wanting her around at those times. I really don't like that feeling and need tools to relate.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous above, I can only say, you are not alone. There are many of us out there dealing with very similar things. It makes you second guess everything you think you know about parenting. But - what I can say - is that the bond that you have with your daughter and the love that you both share will make it easier.

I am saying this after a two hour bout of attempting to get my son to do homework that is technically very easy for him, but which he goes completely "mind blind" over when faced with it. It is an excrutiating process but requires immense patience and calm, or it all ends up blowing up and nothing getting accomplished. And we don't always succeed. But - today he finished without it turning into a major incident and that is good.

Even if you don't have a diagnosis it sounds as if the strategies on this site and others might be helpful. Best of luck to you!

Anonymous said...

As a teenager with aspergers, I can honestly say that I have experienced most of the situations described above. My way of coping with these issues is lying or procrastination, which I'm trying to break those habits. But other ways I try to deal with these instances is just having an adult I can trust or just go to a dark room or area by myself and think aloud to myself (whispering of course) about what I did wrong. In doing so I have learned what to do and not to do in social situations but I am still having trouble with stress and reading expressions.
Being so close to the end of the school year, I have many projects due in the next two weeks, and some of them are presentations, I just feel like I am going to burst from the stress. I feel as though at any time I will "melt-down" and just go insane. I can understand where the above mentioned children are coming from with their procrastination, tiredness, and disorganization, it is not fun.

Anonymous said...

It seems that every time we are about to do homework. My 9 yr.od Aspie starts getting defiant! I do give him sometime to "breathe" like an hour. During that time, he is either playing with Legos or playing on the computer or even playing a video game or drawing. That is his time to "regroup" so then we can proceed.
Well it is not happening. Yesterday and this by the way has been going on like "forever" some days better than others. But to tell you the truth, it wears me down, to a point that i get soo mad and i know he doesn't do it intentionally but his behaviour is too much!

I know kids at school say "word" that we at home don't say. At some point he may push my buttons and say a word in retaliatiion so he won't do his assignments, that really turn me mad.
But he knows at tiimes what he is saying and others because he heard it elsewhere.
I love my son sooooooooo very much. I want him to accomplish all of his studies and to be able to so for himself in the future. he is a great artist -lego -transformer maker lol and oves books . He has a varied curiosity for alot of things. His faveorite subject is Science. he loves cars. Trains anything with wheels.
He is thriving though once he gets home... he starts to be negative and says it is hard or anything under the sun NOT to do his assignments. So I help him then he is at ease. Though at tiimes he wants me to do his assignments. He is sneaky. Though he is bright but a bit lazy and i jsut want him to thrive in his academic endeavors and flourish each day.
I need help!!!!

Yoly507 said...

My sons teacher made a binder with various sections like behavior, homework, missed work, and all the classroom rules and procedures are in it. I love it there is also a place for us to write back and forth.

Yoly507 said...

My sons teacher made a binder with various sections like behavior, homework, missed work, and all the classroom rules and procedures are in it. I love it there is also a place for us to write back and forth.

dsnyredhead said...

My nine year old son knows he needs to do his homework...but he stalls for as long as possible. He hides in the bathroom making up excuses as to why he can't come out and do his work...THEN at 7 am in the morning he starts screaming that he needs to complete any of his homework that he hasn't finished and that we are supposed to stay home until he finishes it...which doesn't happen. If he doesn't finish it during the time on the way to school or before the bell rings he blames me for his homework not being done.

Unknown said...

What a great article! Homework can be a nightmare for my 8 year-old and I. He is pretty high functioning in many ways so it can be hard to tell what he is capable of and what is too much. I also notice he is more likely to act our and take longer to do his andssignments with me than with my ex. I'm trying to follow all the reccomendations, but it is still a high anxiety and high tantrum time.

Unknown said...

Check he doesn't have dysgraphia. 15 years old son has that and ASD. His motor cortex can't keep up with his thoughts so then his thoughts get jumbled and he ends up writing very little and what he does write becomes unintelligible. (Ask him to speak what hes writing and he sounds like a professor)

Tronic Phil said...

I have both ASD and ADHD. I am almost 13 and I am thinking of writing an article on why I shouldn't get homework. For now, I can do it while I am finishing my work in class, but I wont be able to do that if we have to go back full time next year. Can you give me a list of your sources so I can write this article?

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

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Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

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Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...