Voncia Hartley and her 10-year old son Kelvin are dreading the first day of school this year. Remote learning means that this Alexandria mother of three will not only oversee the education of her children, she will also have to help Kelvin stay focused and organized. He has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“When we changed to online learning last spring, I almost felt like I needed to duct tape him to the chair so that he could stay still long enough to complete his assignments,” said Hartley. “We both shed a lot of tears and did a lot of screaming.”
While home-schooling or managing distance learning can be challenging for many parents, for those with children who have ADHD, it poses more complex demands. In addition to attending virtual classes and completing assignments, students with ADHD might need help locating lost pencils, notebooks or other supplies, keeping track of and completing homework or staying focused and away from video games during the school day.
“Home schooling kids with ADHD can actually have its benefits. They can have movement breaks when they need them and can modify their environments.”
—Carol Barnaby, LCSW-C, therapist
“ADHD is a brain disorder that includes difficulty maintaining focus, hasty actions, and excessive body movements that interfere with daily functioning,” said Jerome Short, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology at George Mason University. “It includes a pattern of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity [and] affects about five to seven percent of children.”
Students with ADHD often need latitude with regard to the pace and method at which they learn. For example, children might need to sit in a rocking chair or on an exercise ball while doing schoolwork.
“Homeschooling kids with ADHD can actually have its benefits,” said Carol Barnaby, LCSW-C, a therapist in Bethesda, Md. “ADHD kids often do better with being able to have more freedom and flexibility in their schedules. They can have movement breaks when they need them and can modify their environments.”
Parents can make distance learning less stressful by creating a schedule and helping their child to follow it each school day. Recreating classroom rituals like holding morning meetings with children to discuss the day ahead can create the structure that those with ADHD need. “Parents can help by putting out a consistent schedule for the kids to work around [and] helping kids make a plan for their day to complete work,” said Barnaby. “Finding a distraction free working space; using a computer that doesn't have distracting apps to lure kids away from work. If that isn't possible using a website blocker during school hours.”
Breaking down that schedule into manageable chunks and knowing how long a child can work on a particular task before needing a break can decrease anxiety and create a supportive environment. Once that is determined, Barnaby suggests “setting a kitchen timer so kids are aware of when break time happens. … This helps them to work on beating the buzzer. If your child becomes stressed then take a break. They can come back to the work when they feel better.”
For students with ADHD, sitting at a desk for long periods of time can be grueling, so Barnaby advises parents to build physical activity into the day and adjust their expectations about their child’s learning for the coming school year.
“Mostly, remember that even if your child isn't performing great during virtual schooling, things will be okay,” she said. “Kids are resilient. Many kids have missed school because of family crises in the past and have done fine catching up to their peers.”