How to Make Homework Tolerable for Kids on the Spectrum

Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic kids are noted for having an obsession with just one or two activities – and homework is usually NOT one of them. Some moms and dads have great difficulty in getting their youngster to shift from their “obsessive interest” to “homework.”

We recently took a poll here on MyAspergersChild.com. Moms and dads (300 in total) of kids on the autism spectrum were asked about homework-related problems. Here are the results:
  • 8% said that their youngster hated school because of homework
  • 10% had no problem getting their youngster to do their homework
  • 16% reported that homework often caused a meltdown
  • 18% had to remind their youngster to do their homework
  • 48% said that homework was a daily family battle

What are we to do if our "special needs" youngsters hate homework? Unfortunately that answer is not straightforward. It depends on the reasons WHY your youngster does not want to do homework. Here are five reasons these children hate homework and what you can do about them:

1. Problem - Books needed for homework are left at school. Solution - If this happens often, it is a sure sign that your youngster is struggling to learn and feels that the homework is too hard. Talk to your youngster's educator and try to set up a system to remind your youngster what books are needed but also tell the educator if your youngster is struggling with homework.

2. Problem - Doing homework takes time, time that you youngster would rather spend doing his fun thing. Solution - Set a limit to the time your youngster spends doing homework and stick to it. If your youngster knows he can stop working at a certain time he will be more motivated to do the work.

3. Problem - Homework is 'boring'. Solution - This is a difficult one, because homework often is boring. Again, setting time limits AND talking to your youngster's educator about the issue may help. Kids use the word 'boring' to cover a variety of situations. You might need to check out why your youngster thinks homework is boring.

4. Problem - Homework is left to the last minute. Solution - Help your youngster keep a homework agenda complete with dates for when work has to be handed in. Mark dates on a calendar and work backwards to decide when your youngster should to start work. Then let your youngster be responsible for getting the work done on time. Don't let your youngster let his problem (no time left to complete homework) become your problem.

5. Problem - The homework is too hard and your youngster does not know how to do it. Solution - Tell your youngster's educator that your youngster couldn't do it so that the educator can review the work.

The amount of benefit your youngster gets from finishing a homework assignment NEVER outweighs the importance of your relationship with your youngster. The amount of time you spend cajoling and coercing your youngster to do their work is counterproductive. There is no way that homework should create tension in a family, and definitely not the kind of meltdowns the survey suggests. Here are some tips:

1. Add variety to the daily routine of your kids. You can alternate their study sessions with an outdoor activity which they particularly enjoy. This balanced daily routine can help you sustain their energy and interest in their homework or assignments. Make sure to manage your time properly so that you are able to join them in their outdoor activities.

2. Ask your youngster’s teacher for suggestions. After spending the majority of the day with your youngster, she might be able to offer some valuable insight. Moms and dads, kids, and educators all working together can change the horror of homework into somewhat of a pleasant experience.

3. Be firm and consistent when it is time to begin homework. It might take a couple of days to fall into a routine. Part of that routine is creating a designated area for homework. Usually the best place is somewhere removed from the noise of the house. If non-school age siblings are playing and having fun while another youngster is trying to complete an assignment, it makes concentrating difficult.

4. Consult your children when deciding the best home for your family. Perhaps, you may allow them to make their best pick when it comes to the study room and play room. In this way, you are making sure that there is a part of your home that your kids can consider their own and where they can enjoy studying their lessons.

5. Create a reward system for homework assignments. You can reward your youngster with one hour of TV time or PSP game time after homework is done. Food is not good compensation; the association of food with reward will create a bad health habit. Avoid giving chocolate chip cookies and other sweets in particular, but generally avoid food as rewards. You can up the fun by giving bigger rewards to higher achievements. You can offer a trip to your youngster's favorite park or take the family on a mini-excursion if an "A" is on the homework result. The best reward is sometimes not games, or toys; sincere warm hugs are oftentimes the perfect incentive for a studious youngster. Be careful not to use praise too often; this will teach kids to seek outside approval. A youngster who is able to feel internal satisfaction for a job well done will be better equipped to ward off peer pressure during the teen years. Thus, it is better to ask kids how they feel about doing a good job (helps to internalize it).

6. Do not go into arguments with your children. It is essential that you develop a positive relationship with your kids while guiding them to establish healthy learning habits. Be a good listener and give your children some leeway in making their own choices. Remember that your role is to guide them as they try to develop their own learning habits.

7. Eradicate distractions. You can help your youngster focus by making the homework the most enjoyable activity available for that moment; hide things that compete with the attention of your kid. Cell phones, television, computer, PSPs and MP3 players must be turned off. Let them appreciate these items as luxuries and not daily privileges.

8. Explore the possibility of giving exercises and simulated tests first. Once your kid is able to learn the concepts, do away with the busywork and cut down on the monotony of the study session.

9. Give him a snack to munch on - or some gum to chew - while doing homework. Also, allow him to take a few breaks (not too many).

10. If your youngster is averse to writing then you may start out by being their dedicated scribe. You may also have them play with their nimble hands by using your PC desktop in your writing sessions. You have to understand that reading and writing activities are done in school because these are basic components of the curriculum. However, you have opportunity to tap other learning tools and approaches at home in order to help them understand their lessons from different perspectives.

11. Incorporate music with games and songs. This tactic is effective especially if your youngster is activity-oriented. Math, Science and English are some of the subjects that tend to be monotonous for kids. Jazz up the study scene a little bit with songs and games (e.g., memorize the whole multiplication table to the tune of "Ten little Indians" or play "Bring Me" for things that start with the letter "N").

12. Inject fun and interesting activities in your study sessions. Avoid those boring reading sessions and try to add activities that are participative in nature. You can use alternative teaching aids such as video, Internet as well as action and board games.

13. Instill reading values. The best way to encourage a homework-friendly life is to instill reading time as part of the family routine. Reading perks up the youngster's interest for information. Reading opens up kid's hunger for learning; homework will not be enough of an outlet to quench this knowledge thirst. Reading will encourage a youngster to fulfill career dreams and is a driving force to make homework fun. Reading to your kids also helps to improve vocabulary, which will make their homework assignments easier. Mothers/fathers need to communicate openly with kids so they understand the value of the activity first. When kids are treated as being capable and responsible, they will start to do it themselves without nagging (nagging tells them that it is your responsibility and not theirs).

14. Join them in their homework. Surprise them once in a while by joining them at their study table. When they see that you are interested, they will think that it is "cool" for them to be involved with the subject too. In this situation, you will have the opportunity to monitor study habits and any improvements. Don't, however, overdo this practice. It is good to guide them in the areas that are difficult, but when you nag, kids are choked as they try to meet your standards; that's not a fun way to learn.

15. Keep a close eye on the time and check on your youngster periodically. Kids need to know that you trust their capabilities to do their work. Standing over their shoulders only invites insecurities to develop. Backing away and then checking later instills independence in kids. It is important for kids to believe they can do things on their own and still know that someone will be there to answer any questions that come up.

16. Let your youngster burn some pent up energy. It is absolutely draining using your brain as much as kids do in school. On top of learning, sitting still for most of the day can be difficult for some kids. Allow some outdoor fun for a half an hour after snack to let some steam off. Kids will be able to concentrate on their homework and will be less likely to rush through the assignments if they are allowed to see some friends and have some down time first.

17. Make sure that your kids participate in the decision-making. Allow them to decide on the topic that they have to tackle first as well as their preferred place and time for the study session. This means that if your kid wants to study math today, then make sure that you start your study session working on numbers. Children will also have their own preferred time and place to study. Give them this leverage as imposing on them can be counterproductive.

18. Make sure your child has a nice and cozy spot where he can relax. This will help him do his homework better.

19. Usually kids are ready for a break when they get out of school. So much information is crammed into one day which makes homework as appealing as cleaning the kitty litter. The only thing most children want as soon as they get home is a snack. Help your youngster refuel his brain and his body by preparing healthy snacks ahead of time. This way when hunger strikes and being patient is not possible, there will be a fast, easy, and most important, healthy choice to devour.

20. Be patient with your child. Some days will go smoothly when it comes to homework. Other days, it will feel like a war-zone. Maybe he is having a bad day. Tomorrow is a new day that brings another opportunity to teach study skills to your child.

==> Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Parents' Comments:
  • I swear I wrote the book on this support group...I am beginning to understand my HFA (undiagnosed)...and how lucky I was to become obsessed with things that can shape my future,, aspies have the most unbelievable insight on subjects..If you can ever get them to become obsessed with things that help there future,,they will excel beyond there peers. 
  • I try to use his obsession to get the homework done. Example: I have three dinosaurs and you give me 2, how many do I have now? Of course he is in 1st grade and I'm sure this will not work for long, but it is now! 

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