The school year is now in full swing. The once-new backpacks may already be showing signs of distress from their daily haul …and perhaps your kids are too. Homework is a task that few (if any!) kids enjoy, and children with autism can especially have trouble with such assignments. Some children can appear to understand what they’re doing while in the classroom, but might not grasp what’s expected from home assignments. Furthermore, many students on the spectrum don’t ask their teachers for help. Fortunately there are several strategies to help your child stay focused.
NEGOTIATE APPROPRIATE ASSIGNMENTS
Regular communication with teachers is important when it comes to homework: it helps clarify the level and amount the child can handle. Keep in touch so teachers can create individually appropriate assignments. Also, make sure you know which assignments are due when and that your child is turning in their completed assignments. Children with autism may have difficulty organizing and tracking homework assignments and due dates.
KEEP IT CONSISTENT
If homework always occurs at the same time and becomes routine, your child will eventually accept it. Initially it may be hard to hold the line, but persistence pays off. This works for almost all chores children prefer to avoid, from taking baths to brushing teeth. You may also want to use a visual schedule and even a timer so that your child knows what to expect when.
SET YOUR CHILD UP FOR SUCCESS
Set a tone that homework time is important and a priority. Give your child an important place to sit, and ask siblings to stay quiet or have them work on their homework too! Ask how it’s going, and be sure to offer praise to help build your child’s confidence. Show that you care and want them to be successful.
MOTIVATE AND ENCOURAGE
Be firm but encouraging, being careful not to nag too much. This can be difficult when you’re frustrated so be conscious of your tone. Set solid standards for what the homework routine looks like, but be encouraging and motivating. Remind your child that you are proud of their efforts and that they are learning. Consider giving a reward for good effort (or even just sitting and attending initially) even if not everything is correct. As improvement is made over time, you can shift rewards to more academic goals. Rewards don’t have to be candy or toys, just ask the child what they might like to do with you once homework is done—it’s an opportunity for positive quality time you can both enjoy. If your child has difficulty waiting until the end of homework to receive the reward, give them tokens (stickers, stars, etc.) throughout the homework routine, and when they reach a certain number of tokens, give them the reward.
Giving choices has been proven to increase motivation. You want homework time to become routine, but you can still offer choices such as where to sit, what writing materials to use, which task to start with and definitely the type of reward given for successful completion. Empower them by offering at least three options; they’ll like the (limited) control!
PICK YOUR BATTLES
Your child’s homework does not have to be perfect. Maybe they misspelled a word. Will the teacher be able to figure it out? Then let it slide. Perhaps their handwriting is a little sloppy. If it’s still legible, don’t spend a lot of time making them re-write something they already did. The less you correct your child (and make them re-do their work), the less frustrating homework will be for both of you! Try to praise twice as much as you critique!
BREAK UP DIFFICULT TASKS
Seeing a full worksheet of 30+ math problems can be overwhelming for any child! Try covering the bottom of the page with a blank sheet of paper and working on one row at a time. You can even switch to other assignments between rows if necessary. Ask your child to help you come up with a pattern (e.g., 5 math problems, 2 spelling words, 5 math problems, 2 spelling words, etc.). If there’s a longer assignment due at the end of the week, work on a little bit each day to make it less overwhelming.
Kelly Namanja, MA, BCBA is AST’s Clinical Director for Chicagoland. Learn more about our team and ABA services in Chicago, as well as autism resources in Illinois here.