Is Homework More Important for Students with ADHD?


Unless you've inhabited Mars these past twenty years, you've heard about the homework debate. But this push-and-pull over the value of after-school assignments has bypassed students with learning deficits. If you're a parent trying to decide whether homework is important for your ADHD kid, here are some things to consider.

Your Nightly Routine

It's 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday. Dog-tired you arrives home after an eight-hour shift. The least enjoyable moments of the night will involve getting your ADHD child to focus on completing a pile of worksheets. That's assuming, of course, she can recall where she put them or whether she remembered to even bring them home.

This scenario underscores a fact few ADHD parents will deny: if homework is hard on ADHD kids--by nature, absent-minded and disorganized--it's pointblank misery for their parents.

It's a fact tempting you toward the chatter in education circles today, chatter about no-homework policies curing student and parent woes. But look closer into anecdotes fueling the no-homework backers. See if you recognize your ADHD kid as one who'd benefit from having no assignments after school.

Chances are, those anecdotes describe kids who willingly shut off the TV and glue themselves to the living room sofa for hours, devouring book after book. If your child doesn't fit that description, experts suggest you think twice before asking her teacher not to assign homework.

boy on stack of books

The Link to Success for ADHD Students

If improving his grades in school leads to your child accepting that he's not a failure, then homework might be the link connecting those dots.

At least, that's according to William E. Pelham Jr, PhD, director of the Center for Children and Families at Florida International University (FIU), Miami, and senior author of a 2016 study linking homework with academic success for ADHD kids. Dr. Pelham noted that one reason his team embarked on the study is a concern that poor homework outcomes in ADHD students translate into underachievement in school, which in his opinion, represents, 'one of the most impairing aspects of childhood ADHD.'

Pelham's team found that ADHD students in elementary grades who were taught strategies for approaching homework were more successful than a control group of kids who didn't learn those strategies. The findings were significant enough for Pelham to recommend a consistent homework routine for ADHD kids and their parents. He went further and related homework success in kids under 12 with academic success in higher grades.

Also not calling for an end to homework is Dr. Joshua Langberg, a clinical psychologist at Virginia Commonwealth University. In 2012, Dr. Langberg and colleagues examined grades and testing data on ADHD kids and found that these students' aptitude for homework predicted their academic performance. Dr. Langberg continues to explore the role of homework as an intervention predicting how ADHD adolescents will perform in school.

Special Benefits for Special Learners

It doesn't matter that the benefits of homework aren't confirmed for the general student population. To many professionals, the link between homework problems in ADHD students and underachievement in school is compelling enough to motivate researchers looking for ways to improve homework outcomes for the ADHD population in particular.

girl with computer and book

Education professionals have reported the following as gains for ADHD students who regularly tackle homework:

  • Improving their working memory. Without a working memory, ADHD students cannot retrieve, process, and store the information that enables them to learn vocabulary, perform in math, and understand historical events.
  • Practicing time management skills. ADHD kids are easily distracted and not known for staying on task. An after-school system for completing homework at a set time and place encourages them to follow a routine.
  • Modeling organizational skills. ADHD students often struggle with having to copy assignments from the board, bring home the right books and papers, and hand in completed assignments. But parents can teach the value of orderliness in just ten minutes a night. One way is to set up color coded folders for incoming and outgoing tasks. Another is to help kids place homework in their backpacks for easy retrieval the next day.
  • Receiving more individualized instruction. This hallmark of effective ADHD teaching strategies reinforces the idea that these kids can learn but in different ways and at their own pace. Homework gives teachers more chances to assign non-traditional tasks suited to ADHD. Examples are computing the cost of eating out by using a dinner receipt from a family trip to McDonald's or asking relatives how a current event impacted their daily lives and then reporting those discussions to the class.
  • Earning more points. Daily homework assignments in smaller batches are more digestible for kids who can't process too much information at one time. That's the beauty of homework for ADHD learners. Every completed worksheet gives your kid a chance to win small points that could add up to a passing grade he might not otherwise qualify for.

boy practicing letters

A Golden Opportunity for Parents

The homework debate roars on. Unfortunately for parents seeking guidance, questions about homework's effectiveness continue to outpace answers. And though it is hard to see past the whining, many parents view a nightly sit-down over homework as an opportunity to model positive learning behavior and to monitor firsthand their child's progress.

Here are some ways ADHD parents can feel empowered by their kids' homework:

  • Want your child to approach homework by exercising time management and organizational skills? Experts suggest there's no better way than to model how it's done. That means escorting your child to an established homework spot at home and going through every motion you want her to mimic, whether it's laying out paper, pencils and calculator needed for math worksheets or charting book report instructions on a Venn diagram.
  • Are you concerned that your child isn't meeting educational benchmarks? Sit with her as she performs homework tasks. Observing how she approaches an algebra problem or reads through a history text to answer end-of-chapter questions gives you a special window into her progress. You'll never have to wait for a parent-teacher conference to know if she's keeping pace with her classmates.

boy and parent doing homework

  • Does your child have an IEP or a 504 Plan? These written plans require teachers to follow a learning path designed around your child's individual needs. Going over your child's nightly assignments allows you to see how his teacher accommodates his learning deficits.
  • How firm a believer in positive reinforcement are you? As an involved player in your ADHD child's homework routine, you'll have countless chances to praise his successes, no matter how small. Some parents establish a rewards system. Kids earn extra time at the playground or get to choose which board game the family will play when they remember incidental homework tasks, even if it's just returning worksheets to the right folder.

Looking for homework resources for your child with ADHD? Check out's membership plans.

By Michele Vrouvas
January 2020
k-12 learning with adhd

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