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Homework and Autism

The challenges of homework for a child on the autism spectrum

August 2012

Homework can be a challenge for any child. When the child is on the autism spectrum, the challenges increase. Understanding why homework is so challenging, finding strategies to help your child, and advocating for your child with teachers can make the experience less stressful for the child and parent.

Why Homework is Such a Challenge

Children on the autism spectrum deal with a lot during the school day that most students don't even think about. Edy Stoughton, the head of Midwest Academy of Indiana, explains one of the reasons children have such difficulty with homework:

"One of the most daunting problems for students with autism spectrum disorders, when it comes to homework, is that for many of these students, it truly takes all they have to make it successfully through the school day. They struggle with understanding class requirements, social situations, their peers, teacher expectations, etc. In other words, social and situational understandings that come naturally to many of us, or at least are fairly easily learned, can be confusing for these students."

Children with Asperger's (a disorder on the autism spectrum) can also appear to understand what they are doing in a classroom, but are unable to carry it over to home. They seem to grasp what they are doing, so the teachers assume they understand and are able to complete the homework assignments.

"Added to this is the fact that these students tend to not always ask the teacher for explanations or help, so when they arrive home with their homework, they may not know what they are expected to do leading to tension between them and their parents," Stoughton explains.

Another problem that some kids face is perfectionism. These children want their handwriting to be perfect and want no eraser marks on their papers. Stoughton explains how this can make homework time last longer: "I have had parents report to me that homework that realistically would be expected to take a half hour takes two hours between a lack of understanding and the belief that it had to be 'perfect.'"

Strategies to Help Your Child

When a child comes home from school, he or she needs time to decompress. Make a snack and talk. An hour or even 2 hours of free time, such as playing outside with a friend, playing a favorite game, or watching television, allows the child's brain some downtime.

Homework can then be started before dinner at least. Waiting until after dinner time to start on assignments can lead to the child being too tired and increases the chances of homework being a struggle to complete. Break down large assignments into 2 or 3 parts to do one at a time. Giving the child a chance to relax during long homework sessions can decrease frustration levels for both the child and the parent.

Advocating for Your Child

If homework is becoming too much for your child, talk to his or her teachers and see if there are some ways they can make accommodations for the student. Stoughton explains how Midwest Academy views homework and the role a teacher plays in helping the child to learn:

"Teachers need to make sure that the homework they assign is really necessary and not just 'busy work.' They also need to check for understanding before it is sent home. We are very cognizant of this at Midwest Academy, and we work hard to maintain a balance between homework as a way to solidify learning and teach responsibility and homework that is simply 'homework for homework's sake.' We believe that learning should occur in the classroom."

Tags: In This Issue, Special Needs

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