ASD Teenagers and "Homework-Related" Meltdowns: Tips for Frustrated Parents

“My 14 yr. old daughter with ASD (level 1) basically refuses to do her homework. It’s a daily struggle that results in meltdown. Desperate ...please help! Any advice will be greatly appreciated.”

As most parents already know, ASD level 1, or High Functioning Autism (HFA), disrupts the youngster’s academic abilities in multiple areas (e.g., a lowered tolerance for new situations or sudden transitions, lack of organizational skills, inconsistent energy levels, high distractibility, excessive interest in only one or two subjects to the exclusion of all others, etc.). 

All of these can present challenges when attempting to complete homework. Fortunately, there are some basic strategies that moms and dads can undertake to help prevent those dreaded evening meltdowns related to homework.

Let’s look at some specific strategies to help your HFA teenager follow through with completing homework…

1. Break-Down Large Assignments— Since some homework assignments can be overwhelming for kids with HFA, parents may need to work closely with their youngster to help her get started. Providing one or two examples may be all that is required in some cases. For more complicated work, moms and dads may want to demonstrate how to break it down into smaller steps. This added attention may be needed for each unfamiliar assignment.

2. Eliminate Vagueness— Some assignments may be unclear to the child (and even to parents). If this happens often, it would be best for you to communicate with the teacher about your youngster’s needs. Receiving more detailed instructions for upcoming assignments will go a long way to ensuring that homework gets done correctly and without meltdowns. The key is to get the information ahead of time so that your youngster can be prepared for – not surprised with – an unknown.

3.  Establish Consistent Time and Place— Observe your youngster and see what hinders her from completing her work. This is paramount to planning homework sessions. During these observations, jot down answers to the following questions about your youngster: Does she fatigue quickly? Is she easily distracted by noise or activity? What frustrates or upsets her? What is her best time of day?

After observing your youngster for a few days, establish a consistent time for homework, preferably when she is well fed, rested and at her best. The amount of time she spends on homework nightly will vary by grade level. When homework length begins to increase, she may stay more focused with short breaks. Incorporate these into the schedule and make sure she has enough time to complete assignments without rushing. It’s also helpful to have a special homework location away from the TV, radio, or other distractions. In addition, kids with HFA can be frustrated by clutter, so make sure that the workspace is organized and that all necessary materials for homework are available and easy to find.

4. Incorporate Interests— A unique quality of high functioning kids on the autism spectrum is that they can develop abnormally intense interests in one or two subjects (e.g., weather, sports statistics, computers, etc.). Using a little ingenuity, moms and dads can persuade the youngster to do seemingly unrelated work by integrating her interests. For example, kids fascinated by computers may be encouraged to complete writing assignments using an online dictionary. Kids who have nightly reading requirements could be allowed to choose books that are related to weather, dinosaurs, or other science topics of interest. If the youngster seems to dislike math, create word problems for practicing addition, subtraction, and multiplication using subjects such as baseball or cars.

5. Provide Daily Routine in Other Areas of the Child’s Life— Homework can be easier for kids on the spectrum when they are already used to a lot of structured, daily routines. A child who has developed the habit of feeding the dog every day immediately after school, for example, will be more likely to do homework every day immediately after dinner. Getting started with a highly-structured daily routine when the child is young goes a long way in avoiding "homework battles" during adolescence.

Kids with HFA possess unique skills and can grow to be highly productive, thriving members of society. But, like everyone, they face their own set of challenges along the way. Homework may be one of those challenges. With careful planning however, moms and dads can make this necessary and important chore less problematic and help to pave their youngster’s way to academic success.


•    Anonymous said… Does she have an IEP or 504? Does she really need the homework to keep up on grades? You could request shortened or no homework, or time for her to do it in school.
•    Anonymous said… Hi, my Son doesn't like Monday's finds it hard and often spikes his anxiety. I have now told him that we have 'no homework Monday's' which has elieviated Meltdowns from school. Monday evenings are more for arts and crafts and leggo. But he knows Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are homework days for Math, Eng and Reading. It seems to be working. I think it's about placing a compromise and balance which will engage and help your child. Hope this helps
•    Anonymous said… I arranged with the school to only have maximum 30 min of homework a night...then put a visual timer on so she knows how long she has to do her homework! Helps a lot!
•    Anonymous said… I don't know how we got to the point where he goes and get it done other than living through the tantrums. He would be grounded from his tablet and electrons. We tried to focus him on goals, cillege, what he wants to be and that it has to get done. It's okay to not like it but it has to get done. It's been a very rough 2 years but seeing an improvement this year most days....not all
•    Anonymous said… I have Asperger's myself and I have specific interests like certain kinds of music. If I were your daughter and I refused to do my homework, you could forbid me to listen to any music and I would do my homework then. It's the motivation that you'll get things you desire if the important work gets done first. Hope that helps!
•    Anonymous said… I think exemptions should only be used as a last resort. They have to learn that you have to do things you don't like. It's a part of life. Believe me I have lived the tantrums the screaming the crying the throwing things the hitting the I hate you your ruining my life. It's he'll but they have to learn and grow and hw is part of it
•    Anonymous said… School is 6 hours a day 5 days a week. Each to their own. My son is doing really well at school therefore we don't need to go through unnecessary meltdowns etc. We pick our battles and at this point we are happy he goes to school.
•    Anonymous said… Thanks for the article, very interesting.

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