When my oldest son came home from school and told me he had homework, I was brought back to my days as a student. I always had a knack for schoolwork and reading, so I looked forward to working with him. Unfortunately, it turned out that we were in for a few challenges. Since schoolwork had always come easily for me—and didn’t for my son—we soon found ourselves frustrated as we tried to work together. I couldn’t quite figure out why.
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After talking it over with my husband, I realized it was hard for me to see him get so easily distracted and it was frustrating for him to have a mom who wanted—and expected—perfection. After many nights, I realized the techniques I used and loved as a child did not work for my neurodivergent son.
While my son and I are alike in many ways, in this case, I needed to step back and reassess how I would move forward. I realized the way I handled the challenge of adjusting to our learning preferences would impact how he would approach homework and studying for the next decade (or more), and I desperately wanted him to have a good relationship with studying. For the next few weeks, I started implementing tips I learned when I worked with adults with autism as well as strategies that helped me as a neurodivergent adult with sensory sensitivities. Here are a few things that make homework easier for my elementary-age neurodivergent child.
1. Scented Markers Make Writing a Sensory Experience
A lot of my son’s homework includes tracing letters, numbers, and writing his name. At first, we tried using pencils, crayons, and regular markers. I nearly gave up as page after page of homework landed on the floor or in pieces. Then, I remembered the power in finding items that positively impacted my own sensory needs. I realized using scented markers could not only keep my son’s attention but also make the experience of writing more fun in the long run. I picked up a few packs at the store and they are now a staple in our homework section.
The way we use the markers is simple. If my son completes a few lines of work with limited distraction, he can choose a new smell/marker as he goes through and completes the rest. When we need a break and to reset, we can make a quick game out of guessing scents and finding the best and worst smelling markers for the other to try out. What’s important about this item is that it is super customizable and a tool that we can use quickly in the moment when needed.
2. A Token Board Tracks Progress
When completing a longer homework assignment or project, it is helpful for my child to see the progress he is making in real time. It also helps to see the list of tasks he needs to complete before he is finished. By breaking down what needs to be completed and including breaks in our timeline, it provides a great structure of preferred and non-preferred activities he can look forward to.
Adding stickers to the chart and allowing your child to place them themselves further involves them in the task and makes it an overall more positive experience.
3. Fidgets Are an Energy Outlet
Whenever we are doing a task that will take longer than a few minutes, I make sure to have a few fidgets on hand to give my child an outlet for all of his energy. Fidgets are also beneficial because they can help children and adults who are neurodivergent focus on a task at hand.
4. A Weighted Stuffy Helps With Concentration
When sitting for an extended period of time, it can become easy for some children with autism and other disabilities to become restless. My son and even my husband (who has ADHD) can often find themselves bouncing all over their chairs, standing, or even walking away from work because they need constant stimulation. Weighted stuffed animals are a great tool to help children sit in place for a bit longer.
5. A Visual Timer Indicates When Break Time Is
A timer is one of the simplest tools I’ve found to help my son with his homework. His behavior specialist suggested we try it out so he could see clearly that homework has a beginning and end so he doesn’t get frustrated when he feels like the work is taking too long. He can easily see when he gets a break.