Resolving "Homework Battles" with Children on the Autism Spectrum

"Getting my son to do his homework has become a nightly battle. We are at the point of arguing constantly, which clearly is making a bad problem worse. Is there a way I can help him understand the importance of education and to develop some interest in following through with schoolwork?"

Homework can be very difficult for kids with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) to understand for the following reasons:

·         they do not understand why they are expected to do schoolwork at home
·         they find school stressful and do not want any reminders of it at home
·         they might have difficulty with organization skills
·         they find it difficult to remember to write down all the homework and remember deadlines

However, there are a number of tips that can help these young people in the future:

1.       Allow kids on the spectrum to make choices about homework and related issues. They could choose to do study time before or after dinner. They could do it immediately after they get home or wake up early in the morning to do it. Invite them to choose the kitchen table or a spot in their own room. One choice kids do not have is whether or not to study.

2.       Doing homework can suck on its own. It’s even worse when your youngster is hunched over the books alone thinking that the rest of the family is having a party in the other room. Sit with your youngster, review the work, encourage and help (but don’t you dare do the homework yourself!). If you must get things done, at least park your youngster in the same room so you can answer questions as you make dinner, pay bills, or post of Facebook.

3.       Eliminate the word “homework” from your vocabulary. Replace it with the word “study.” Have a study time instead of a homework time. Have a study table instead of a homework table. This word change alone will go a long way towards eliminating the problem of your youngster saying, "I don't have any homework." Study time is about studying, even if you don't have any homework. It's amazing how much more homework Aspergers and HFA children have when they have to study regardless of whether they have homework or not.

4.       Only help if your youngster asks for it. Don’t do problems or assignments for kids. When your youngster says, "I can't do it," suggest they act as if they can. Tell them to pretend like they know and see what happens. Then leave the immediate area and let them see if they can handle it from there. If they keep telling you they don't know how and you decide to offer help, concentrate on asking than on telling. Ask: "What do you get?" … "What parts do you understand?" … "Can you give me an example?" … "What do you think the answer is?" … or "How could you find out?"

5.       Disorganization is a problem for most of these special needs kids. If you want them to be organized, you have to invest the time to help them learn an organizational system. Your job is to teach them the system. Their job is to use it. Check occasionally to see if the system is being used. Check more often at first. Provide direction and correction where necessary. If your youngster needs help with time management, teach them time management skills. Help them learn what it means to prioritize by the importance and due date of each task. Teach them to create an agenda each time they sit down to study. Help them experience the value of getting the important things done first.

6.       If your child can’t do his homework at school, he might need to unwind and relax when he first comes home, instead of launching straight into work. Giving him time to reduce his stress levels may mean that he then finds it easier to focus on the work later on. Some kids may also benefit from using either a reward system or a behavior contract. If he successfully completes his homework every day for a week, could he get a reward at the weekend? Alternatively a behavior contract could be drawn-up with everyone in the family, with everyone agreeing to do one task every day - and it could be agreed that completing his homework will be the thing that your child will do.

7.       If your child finds it difficult to understand why he does homework at home, could he do it at school instead? Some kids find break and lunchtime very hard and they may find it preferable to sit in the library or a quiet place in the school and do their work. Some schools also have after-school clubs or homework clubs, which your child may find of use.

8.       If your child has more than one piece of homework, it may be useful to ask the teachers in each lesson to either make sure your child has written down the homework in his diary, or write it in for him. They may also need to provide written instructions to take home which breaks the task down further as well.

9.       Keep the routine predictable and simple. One possibility includes a five minute warning that study time is approaching, bringing their current activity to an end, clearing the study table, emptying their back pack of books and supplies, then beginning.

10.   Replace monetary and external rewards with encouraging verbal responses. End the practice of paying for grades and going on a special trip for ice cream. This style of bribery has only short term gains and does little to encourage kids to develop a lifetime love of learning. Instead make positive verbal comments that concentrate on describing the behavior you wish to encourage.

11.   If homework is something your children have to squeeze in between karate, piano lessons and soccer practice, they’re not going to think of it as important. And, unless you really enjoy over-dramatic tears and hearing every excuse in the book, avoid doing homework right before bedtime at all costs.

12.   Time slams to a crawl for many Aspergers and HFA children when faced with a stack of papers and a #2 pencil. Set a timer for 15 minutes and, when it dings, tell your youngster to take a quick break to stretch, get a drink of water or collapse on the floor and moan “I hate doing homework” over and over again. Really active children may need to run around the house before they get back to the books.

13.   Use study time to get some of your own responsibilities handled. Do the dishes, fold laundry, or write thank you notes. Keep the TV off! If you engage in fun or noisy activities during that time kids will naturally be distracted. Study time is a family commitment. If you won't commit to it, don't expect that you kids will.

14.   You need to use leverage to get some children to do anything. Do they love television? Computer games? Guitar Hero? Unplug it all until homework is done. You can even exchange homework time for something they love: 15 minutes of effective homework time = 15 minutes with their beloved plugged-in whatnot.

15.   There comes a time when your child has to accept that homework is his responsibility. So, if you’re really tearing your hair out and aging prematurely due to the nightly fighting, it may be time to let your little bird fly on its own. Let your youngster go to school with an unfinished assignment and accept the consequences. Collaborating with the teacher ahead of time may insure an appropriate response to “the dog ate my homework”. 


Anonymous said...

In this situation, it's like any other kid! lol! You have to find his currency, whatever he loves to do, you take it away! Like a video game, music, whatever it is. Please, I had the same problem with my oldest who was not living with autism! Also, it is important to set up a reward system also! It doesn't have to be anything big, just something he LOVES, every friday on completion of his tasks during the week. Chores, grooming, homework, all should be included. Give him a new chance everyday! Therefor, if he has a bad day, start over the next day. If he didn't complete homework the night before, wake him up early to do it before school. Some kids do better in the morning, because the are too over stimulated from the long day, at night. Say that's fine, but tonight you cannot do "whatever it is", but you need to go to bed and hour early, and you will complete it in the morning! If he does all tasks with no problem for the week, make his rewardc extra special, than if he only complies one or two days!

Anonymous said...

I have my son do his homework in the morning. When we tried at night he would get frustrated and not do it. Its kind of like an overload to do it at night.

Anonymous said...

So It's ok to bribe or reward...I mean I found that works but was concerned all these years if we were making the right choice by rewarding for everything.It's just at one point we begin to wonder if we reward will our daughter go through life always expecting to be rewarded for doin obvious daily chores or work?when do we know that she realizes what she's doing or not doing and not doin it for the purpose of rewards but for doin what she knows is suppose to be done? It's still hard at 14 telling her every morning to get out of bed,go to the restroom,get dressed,make your bed,brush your hair,eat your breakfast,etc,etc,etc...It's like she's a teenager but I'm still taking care of a kindergartner.very frustrating! Tough to put up with every day wondering will it ever change.she does ok once then it goes away.makes me want to throw my arms up and give up,then I realize its not her fault...desperate mom

Anonymous said...

My child goes and hides in the bathroom claiming to be sick. Then he rushes to do it when his dad gets home only to make it sloppy. Sigh. He hates homework.

Anonymous said...

what i do with my son is i give him a break for a while and then tries to deal with his homework but we make it fun.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I. Think homework is quite overrated (look up some studies on the subject, it really does not assist in learning beyond the classroom all that much), I think we are in such a habit of giving kids homework, we are not even sure if it is helpful. Sure, reading every day has shown to be helpful, but excessive homework really doesn't do much but cause stress in an already stressed out family.
Options: modification of homework amount on the IEP/504 (if developing the "habit" of homework is important, then giving the child a *managable* amount will give them a feeling of success and accomplishment..."managable" is different for each child); asking the teacher for the priority homework (what must be done, and what is less of a priority), and/or asking to substitute alternatives (i.e., if your child has trouble writing but needs to learn multiplication facts, ask if it is permissible to substitute worksheets of facts with flash cards or verbal answers as a substitute).

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree that homework is overated. Ditto all you said about it! I plan to do the same next year when my Aspie is in 1st grade (using the 10 minutes of homework per grade guideline!). I suspect I will end up homeschooling the lad at some point.....

Anonymous said...

I'm coming out on the other end of this as my son will graduate high school this June. We had horrible battles for years over homework. What worked best for us was to focus on the long term. When he was in elementary and middle school I had reductions in homework as part of his IEP. When homework club was available after school I signed him up. When he was able to do homework during lunch or during his time in the resource room he did.

I also bribed him, every report card that had nothing lower than a "C" on it would get him something he wanted. Usually a video game.

What made the biggest difference though was starting high school. I'd told him all along that his grades would count in high school from the first day. Our kids are very pragmatic. They want to know why they need to do this. He kept the goal of college in mind and was on the honor roll every semester. He has been accepted to his college of choice.

As horrible as he was in middle school I never thought he'd make it through high school. But as I've done so many times, I underestimated my son.

Anonymous said...

i believe its all about compromise with my son. He has to make a choice between homework now or in 30 mins...if he chooses the later he has to do it without complaining or i wont give him the choice. It will b on my timetable.

Anonymous said...

My daughter has meltdowns over homework. SHe is extremely intelligent and does great in school. Once home, she is a different person. We finally worked out with the teacher, if she has a meltdown over homework and doesn't respond to one warning then she doesn't do her homework. If she does it in class, she doesn't have it counted towards Friday Funday. It has helped as well as more understanding and patience. The key usually is in getting her to understand what the problem is, working the problem is easy at that point.

Anonymous said...

Homework was a nightmare with my almost 8 year old son. Then a few months ago inspiration hit and I started taking him to the library to do his homework. He feels very grown up working in his own study carol and there is nothing to distract him. It's turned 3 hour screaming matches at home into 15 minutes at the local library after school. It doesn't always work but it has been a huge improvement.

Anonymous said...

My son is 19 now, but homework was difficult for years. I scheduled. I had daily contact with teachers. I micromanaged and got him through it for years. However, in high school, it really began eroding our relationship because I was on him all the time. At that point, I stepped back and said, this is your responsibility. I will help you in any way I can, but only if you want and ask for help. He's very bright and he finished high school with a mediocre GPA, but I don't think it would've been any better had we stayed on him. It would only have hurt our relationship with him.

Anonymous said...

My 8yr old son is given all his homework tasks on Monday for the week which is fantastic as I can let him choose what he wants to do each night, and if he is having a bad night we can choose a small task or leave it until another night. He also does a 2 page project in a foolscap book once a week, but because we know what is set each week, we can plan it and discuss ideas over the weekend or early in the week so it isn't such a large task for him each week.

dsnyredhead said...

some of these comments sound just like my son! They do give alot of homework in third grade. I talked to the teacher about it and she said that if he didn't finish it then he should finish it the next day and turn it in...problem is, my son wants that "high mark= 4" for homework on his report card so he stresses out when it's morning and it's not done yet. But in the evening he just doesn't want to do it.

Unknown said...

THis sounds just like my Aspie boyfriend, we got through high school together and now in college, it takes me hours and hours of trying to get him to do his homework. His parents got divorced and remarried so they are very hard on him when it comes to homework. About a week ago I tried a different approach..I created a website speciffically for him. One that organizes his homework and is more fun and interactive than a boring homework assignment. Its kid friendly and it made him really understand the assignment better after I told him exactly what he needed to do for the week. You can take a look at the website if you wish. But its something that he liked and reallyhelped him refocus.

the website is:


dsnyredhead said...

of course, my son then complains that he won't get a four on his homework. (4 being the high mark), so he decides he needs to do it. Sigh. It's such a battle right now.

Misha said...

After long battles I've figuren out a system for my 12-year old. Now I read others have come to similar conclusions. So this is how we do it;
When he comes home hè dumps his bag and I keep talk to a minimum. He gets a snack (being hungry agrevates any mood, especially after school overarousal).
Then I set the kitchen timer and hè gets 30 min. break in which hè usually plays a videogame or asks for a backrub or bath to wind down.
Then (as agreed and put in a 'contract') he goes and does his homework as hè sees fit. 45min work-15min rest-45min work (using timer). We agreed he is to ask for help but rarely does.
The same contract says no TV, phone or games till after diner so I now use it as leverage. If hè lets me check his homework and follows my tips without complaining he can watch TV earlier.
Also we agreed that I let him find his own way till next reportcard in 3 months time. Good grades and no complaint from school and he keeps his freedom. Dropping grades (I can see grades on the school website) and we do it my way.
Reward after a (relatively) hasstle-free week might be pizza or a movie and lots of verbaal compliments.
It takes a lot of energy from me to police the rules but it works well so far and is worth it!
I do want to ad; before he comes home I take 15min break to center myself. I cope beter with his behaviour when I keep my cool.

Unknown said...

I don't know about you guys, but homework needs to be illegalized. All that does is torture kids with lifelong problems they can't live with and take away personal time from friends and families. Hard to explain, but this homework-passing nonsense needs to stop. I had to go through more than I needed to in my childhood and it was the worst part of my life. I hope a federal law will be passed so that no more homework will ever be handed out again. Even I have autism myself.

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