Children with autism face challenges at school as well as after school. Parents often seek outside help after they have “given up” trying to help their autistic child with homework. It isn’t that the parents aren’t doing a good job, it’s that sometimes a parent needs to create space to do their primary job, being a parent.
Many parents of autistic children have found out the hard way that homework time can also be nightmare time for both the child and parent. It breaks my heart when I hear the familiar strain in the parent’s voice, “my child needs help with homework and I can’t help anymore; what should I do?” Here are my “5 Tips to Happier Homework Time” for helping students with autism overcome the challenges of homework.
Tip #1: Chunk.
A project is really just a bunch of small actions that lead to a bigger goal. It can really help to clearly break the assignment down into chunks, instead of overwhelming the student with an entire project. Lay out the steps individually. This will help homework time be more focused and flow better, one step at a time.
This goes hand in hand with planning and scheduling. For example, if there is a project due at the end of the week, it is important to break it up into smaller actions, and then schedule when those actions are to be completed by.
Hint: Be sure to make it visual! A visual agenda is very important. Use visual tools as much as possible to help plan and schedule due dates for homework and assignments.
Tip #2: Obsess, obsess, obsess, obsess…
Some students with autism perseverate (obsess) on things. They tend to hone in on one thing of interest like movie stars, animals or a particular artist. If you can tie in the assignment to their focus, this will make it much more exciting for them. It doesn’t have to necessarily be a report on trucks for a kid who can’t get enough trucks, but maybe he could play with a truck for 5 minutes every time one of the homework chunks is finished.
Note: Some autistic students might obsess on homework and do homework for hours and hours on end. In these cases they may need to be stopped or given a time limit. This can be especially true for high functioning students who tend to expect more and be harder on themselves.
Tip #3: Black and White
Autistic students are usually very literal, they do not “read between the lines.” There is no gray area, only black and white. So be very specific when communicating about homework and expectations. Use maximum prompting; visual or verbal.
Tip #4: Color
Although students with autism comprehend in “black in white” figuratively speaking, using “color” for organizational purposes is a surefire way to help homework time.
For example, color coding subjects can really help: Math homework is green, English homework is red, etc.
You can also color code binders. So one binder may be the Yellow Binder and it is for a specific project and all of the associated smaller chunked actions that will lead to the completion of that project.
Note: For students with motor skills issues, they may find it helpful to use an accordion binder instead of the 3-ring binder. These are usually easier to open and use, thus, they are often recommended by Occupational Therapists.
Finally, set a specific time and place for homework to be done. Consistency is especially important for students with autism. Again, using a visual cue can help the transition in and out of homework time. Like maybe a picture of a student reading or writing to start homework time, and then a picture of a student playing or doing some other activity at the end of homework time.