With Halloween just around the corner, let’s delve into something that can be downright scary for many families – homework.
For students with ADHD, the challenges with homework often feels like a nightly horror show, and caregivers can relate to the suspense of watching a scary movie unfold, yelling, “No! Don’t do it. Don’t open that door!”
But here’s the reality: homework doesn’t have to be a recurring nightmare.
In this post, we’ll explore why homework is such a consistent struggle for students with ADHD and provide evidence-based solutions for therapists and teachers.
The Evidence Base of Homework
Did you know that homework isn’t necessarily an evidence-based practice?
Despite its prevalence, the effectiveness of homework, especially for elementary students, remains uncertain. Harris Cooper, a renowned expert in psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, has extensively researched homework’s impact since 1986. In his book, “The Battle Over Homework,” Cooper highlights that the connection between homework and elementary school achievement is almost non-existent. Despite the scary lack of evidence, this practice is alive and well in most elementary classrooms.
The Purpose of Homework
Homework serves three instructional purposes: practice, preparation, and extension.
These intentions are well-supported by evidence because practice reinforces learning, preparation reduces cognitive load, and extension promotes knowledge generalization.
However, good intentions alone don’t guarantee success for every learner.
Why Homework Is Challenging for Students with ADHD
Many of our students with ADHD possess the academic skills needed for homework but struggle with self-regulation and executive function.
To illustrate, consider a third-grader tasked with a nightly math sheet.
Completing it involves a series of complex steps, each requiring executive functions like working memory, organization, and time management.
“Just one math sheet” is more than ten separate tasks that require 100% accuracy or homework will be incomplete.
The performance of the homework completion process, the where, the when, and the how of doing what is expected of you, is what is directly impacted by ADHD.
Many teachers and parents do not understand that this is not ” just ” one sheet of math for a child with delayed self-regulation and executive function.
Impact of ADHD Medication and Saturation on Homework
Many students with ADHD rely on stimulant medication to manage their school day. However, by the time they return home, their medication often wears off, leaving them tired and depleted. This depletion affects executive functions, making homework even more challenging.
Homework becomes counterproductive when children reach their saturation point, leading to frustration, resentment, and tears.
For students well beyond saturation point, homework will not provide the practice, the preparation, or the extension in which it is intended.
Accommodations to Support Homework Challenges for Students with ADHD
Therapists and teachers can collaborate to provide scaffolds for different aspects of the homework completion process.
Implementing scaffolds like recording assignments accurately, ensuring materials get home, and creating effective homework plans can significantly reduce executive function demands.
For some students with ADHD, homework volume and format adjustments may be necessary.
Reducing the workload, allowing differentiation, and reframing assignments can make homework more manageable and effective.
Every learner with ADHD is unique, and for some, homework may be counterproductive. In such cases, considering eliminating homework as a reasonable accommodation on their IEP or 504 Plan may be necessary.
Homework doesn’t have to be a source of dread for students with ADHD. By addressing the root of the problem and implementing evidence-based strategies, therapists, teachers, and parents can help these students access the intended benefits of homework.
For more explicit strategies surrounding homework read Improving Homework Performance for Students with ADHD .
Check out our homework plan for effective support for the executive functions required in the homework completion process.
- Cooper, H. M. (2015). The battle over homework: Common ground for administrators, teachers, and parents. Simon and Schuster.
- Dolean, D. D., & Lervag, A. (2022). Variations of homework amount assigned in elementary school can impact academic achievement. The Journal of Experimental Education, 90(2), 280-296. DOI: 10.1080/00220973.2020.1861422