At this time when everybody is trying to adjust to the issue of the Coronavirus and with the latest news that schools are about to be closed down please spare a thought for parents and families who will be supporting children with learning, behaviour and socialisation issues such as ASD and ADHD.
For many families, weekends and holidays supporting children with conditions such as ASD or ADHD can be very stressful so this unexpected and unplanned extended period of time may appear extremely daunting especially if families are expected to monitor learning tasks.
With this in mind I was reminded of an incident that some years ago when I was teaching in a specialist school in South London.
One morning when I was collecting in the Science homework of my year 8 class, Billy came up to me and said “Sir” ,”my mum said to give you this”
What was described as “this” happened to be a white sock with a yellow post it note on it.
“It’s not my sock Sir” said Billy “it’s my brother Tom’s”
Puzzled, I took the sock and read the note on it which read as follows “Dear Mr O’Regan I spent 4 hours last night trying to help Billy with his Science homework, please find my laundry enclosed”. This was a task that should not have taken more than 20 minutes.
Billy was a bright but very active 13 year old boy with ADHD and had major difficulties with organisation and completion of homework.
Overall he was fine in class but it was at break times and lunchtimes that he displayed more difficulties and could be disruptive and defiant.
In terms of homework, no amount of positive reinforcement or consequences for non- completion appeared to have any effect. I had many conversations with his Mum about this issue.
Whilst re reading the note, the penny dropped. Billy was a child that did well in structure and class time was structured. It was in non-structured time that issues developed in school and therefore possibly at home when any other amount of distractions would be available.
For Billy’s Mum trying to prepare dinner while organising her children for the evening alongside, walking the dog, paying the bills, hovering the house, preparing bath time, doing the ironing and the washing…..homework for Billy for whom 4 hours of supervision was required was a bridge too far.
What the Mum was trying to say was “could we help her”. Home can be a difficult environment for children with ADHD due their hyperactive and impulsive traits as well as sustained difficulties with focus on tasks that involve writing and reading.
In terms of homework, research shows it takes a child with ADHD three times as long to complete the same task at home than at school.
As a result of understanding and appreciating this we were able to have Billy complete his homework mostly at school and provided differentiated tasks that he took home.
This will be the norm for families with children with ADHD so with Covid 19 closing schools for an extended period and with the isolation restrictions in place this will create many additional challenges for children, their parents and possibly their siblings also.
As a result as much support as we can possibly and practically provide will be welcomed by families.
There are no magic solutions but here are some initial tips to pass onto to parents.
- Structure the day as much as possible in terms of getting up at a set time in the morning and maybe try to have the day divided up into 4 Sections: Morning 9-12, Afternoon 1-3, Early Evening 4-7 and Late Evening 7-10 (dependent on ages). Within these sections then design a series of 20 to 40 minute segments especially in the Morning and Afternoon sections (dependent on the age of the child) in terms of learning tasks and activities. Obviously build in times for meals and some relaxation but try to leave the bulk of leisure time for the Evening sections.
- Within this system design organised movement breaks either inside the house or within the allowed restrictions outside. These can be a mixture of aerobic activities or games and there are a host of ideas of ideas on the internet but don’t forget those Othello boards and cards packed away in cupboards.
- Be mindful of screen time either TV or computer as too much of either is not advisable. Use sparingly in amongst the other options mentioned above. The parent should be in charge of the remote control.
- Don’t get frustrated if things get difficult and disillusioned if things don’t always go well. I think it’s not about the management of behaviour it’s the management of mood. Think mood not behaviour.
- Communicate with others, family, friends and school if and when possible. Encourage the children to speak to grandparents and aunts, uncles as well as their regular contacts. Let’s talk and not text or email. It’s the best form of communication.
For further tips for parents please find 100 top tips for supporting children with ADHD at www.fintanoregan.com or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.