Why might autistic children and young people find it difficult to complete homework? Learn about some of the possible reasons and find useful and practical strategies for how to help your child to finish their homework.
Why might your autistic child find homework hard?
Your child might be having difficulty because:
- the homework does not meet their level of ability and need so they find it too difficult, become frustrated and then don't want to work at home
- they may not understanding why they have to do work for school when they're at home
- it might not be clear to them what work needs to be done if they have difficulty with processing instructions or writing, and are not supervised when recording homework
- they may be tired after a long day at school or there may be too many distractions at home for them to concentrate
- they may have difficulty with organising, sequencing and prioritising tasks and may misjudge how long to spend doing homework
- they may feel that the work has to be perfect, and struggle to begin a task because of anxiety.
If your child has a diagnosis of pathological demand avoidance (PDA), now considered part of the autism spectrum, their need to be in control may drive them to avoid the demands of homework. The PDA society have further information, including strategies to try at home.
How to help your child with their homework
Make sure it's achievable
If you're child is having difficulty with their homework, talk with their teacher. The teacher may not have much experience of autistic children and may appreciate being given some information and resources about autism in education and how it particularly affects your child.
Ask about the topics that the group is studying and make sure the teacher is planning homework that suits your child. If you feel the homework is too easy or too hard, then discuss it with their teacher.
If the teacher will not adapt the homework, then discuss this with the SENCO, additional support for learning staff member or the most appropriate member of teaching or support staff. The school has a duty under the Equality Act 2010 in England, Wales and Scotland and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland to make reasonable adjustments for any pupil with a disability.
If your child has an education health and care plan (EHCP), a statement of special educational needs (statement of SEN) or a coordinated support plan (CSP) and it doesn't include difficulties that your child has with homework, then you could ask for an early annual review to have it included.
If you feel that your child's educational needs are not being adequately met you may wish to contact our Education Rights Service for specific advice.
Support your child with motivation
Your child may have difficulty transferring working at school to home. Visual supports can really help autistic children to be more focused, so ask at school if they could have a visual timetable that extends to your child completing homework. A teacher could talk your child through this on days when homework is set.
A social story™ is another useful way to explain to a child about a school day and you can include a part about doing homework.
Try using a motivator, an item or activity that your child really likes, and include a picture/symbol of it on a visual timetable that your child can follow. For example, this could show 'homework first, then computer time' as this may encourage them to start homework.
Try to alternate the motivator, for example one day it might be 'homework then computer' and the next day it could be 'homework then watching a favourite DVD'. It also helps to use positive words of encouragement when your child is working well, especially if your child is anxious about the homework. Reward and encourage small steps by using targeting and specific praise.
If it does become extremely difficult for your child to work at home, ask school if they have a homework club, or speak to the head teacher to ask if they would considering setting one up.
Check your child is given clear instructions
It will help your child if the teacher uses clear and direct language to give precise instructions for homework, stating specifically what your child needs to do and when it needs to be done by.
If your child struggles with language processing, then they may need more time to note down homework. Written instructions breaking the homework down further can also be helpful. Flow charts, mind maps, spider diagrams or bullet points are more helpful than verbal explanations.
If your child has problems recording their homework in a homework diary, ask the teacher and/or teaching assistant if they can help them or adapt the way it's done. For example, if homework is written up on a white board for children to copy, could your child be supervised while doing this or could they have a printout of the homework?
Ask the teacher if they could simplify the way they present homework, by highlighting the important words on a homework sheet, using visual supports or bullet points. If the child has problems writing, could they use a computer to do their homework?
You could ask if your child can use a dictaphone, either to record the teacher's instructions about homework, or their own notes-to-self about the homework tasks, and listen to them at home.
Think about when and where to do homework
The best time to start homework will depend on your child. You may want to give them some time for a break after the school day, rather than going straight into starting homework. Or you could try starting straight after school.
You may wish to start homework before a preferred or fun activity, using a visual timetable to show your child what will be happening. It can help to do homework at the same time each day so it becomes part of a routine.
If possible, keep an area of your home free for your child to use to do their homework. It might help to set up a desk or table that they can work at. Ideally, it should be away from any distractions like the television. It helps if you ask other siblings not to interrupt them while they are working. Let your child know you are available if they need your help.
Help them with organisation and timing
If your child finds it difficult to concentrate on work for a long time, you may need to sit with them first to help keep them focused. You could start by getting them to work for just a short time and then build up gradually. It could help to use a timer to show how long they need to spend on the homework.
Communicate with your child's school
Keep the school up to date with how your child is progressing with homework. Ask the school if they can set up a home-school communication book or diary, so can you can keep in touch with them or keep in contact by talking to the class teacher, SENCO/additional support for learning staff member, head teacher or other appropriate member of staff about any homework issues you have.
There may be times when your child has more difficulties than usual and finds it particularly hard to concentrate, or behaves in a way that affects their ability to do homework. This might happen when there are significant changes in the family, or when your child is ill or anxious.
If doing homework causes extreme problems during this time, then see if it's possible for your child not to have homework for a while. You can always go back to trying to get your child to engage in it again by re-introducing it gradually.
Getting further help
You may find that you need to secure extra help for your child in school.
Our Education Rights Service provides impartial, confidential information, advice and support on education rights and entitlements for parents and carers of pre-school and school-age children with autism to help them get the educational support their child needs.
If you are reading this information from a print-out, you can visit the web page and find out more at: www.autism.org.uk/homework.
Last reviewed: 23 November 2015.