5 Things All Parents of Children with ADHD Can Do to Support their Child's Academic Success

Are you struggling to support the needs of your child, pre-teen, or teen with ADHD? 

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I just returned from the Occupational Therapy Association of California (OTAC) annual conference, where I attended a great session on supporting the needs of college students with ADHD, taught by Rashelle Nagata, OTD, OTR/L.  

Here's a quick list of practical strategies I learned, that you can immediately put to use with your own child right now....even if they won't be in college for many years!

1.  Self-advocacy is SO important for children with ADHD.  Many children with ADHD drop out of college due to lack of support for their executive function challenges.  We can begin teaching this to children at a young age.  Our children must be self-aware, know what supports they need, and then ASK for those supports. 

*Takeaway tip: Make observations about your child's behaviors, and problem-solve with them to help them identify what supports they need.  Practice ways to ask for support in different situations that may come up at school.

2. Time management is a key skill that children with ADHD need to be taught. 

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  • Dr. Nagata recommended using a paper semester-long calendar to help students see the "big picture" of the whole semester at once.  It is important to have students WRITE out this calendar using paper and pencil.  After writing it out, students can take a photo with their phone if they want a digital copy. 
  • Using a weekly calendar is also important.  (Not so important that this one is paper- can be google calendar or another electronic calendar.)
  • Using a good to-do list app is helpful for students.  Some of the apps mentioned were Wunderlist (my personal favorite...I use it EVERY day), Omnifocus, and Habitica.  Of special note is the Habitica app, as it translates the student's to-do list into a game.  The student gets points for completing to-do items, with rewards for task completion built into the platform.  I think this could be very effective for children with ADHD as their brains need that dopamine spike to maintain attention to tasks.  Seems like Habitica was made to help people with ADHD get things done!  

*Takeaway Tip: It's never too early to begin teaching your child with ADHD about time management.  Include your child in planning the family calendar or daily schedule.  If you have a teen, help them get organized with a semester calendar and make sure they know how to use a calendar to keep track of their assignments.  Try out a to-do list app.

3.  Initiation of work is always a challenge for children with ADHD.  Some strategies shared by Dr. Nagata include: 

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  • Have your child do something fun and active for a few minutes before starting the task.  Set a timer and jump rope, do jumping jacks, or take a quick walk around the block.  Then when the timer goes off, start the task.
  • Meditation has been shown to help students with ADHD.  Have your child use a mindfulness app to do a short 2-minute meditation before starting work.
  • Use the 10-minute rule.  Set a timer and have your child start working for "just" 10 minutes.  Usually by the time the 10 minutes is up, the work will be started and they can keep working.  (This often works for my whole family to get started on a quick clean-up of our house!)

Takeaway tip: Try some of the above strategies to get your child started on their homework or chores.

4. Minimizing distractions is key to helping children with ADHD get things done.  Try using the Forest app or the Tide app to help your child stay focused when they need to get work done.

Takeaway tip: Technology may be better than you at helping your child stay focused when doing work! :)  Try one of the above apps and solicit your child's feedback about how it helped them.  This will build their self-awareness for future self-advocacy.

5. Cognitive re-framing is VERY important for children with ADHD.  Teaching our children to practice positive self-talk and to bounce back after "failure" is likely the most important life skill we can instill in our children.  

Takeaway tip: Next time your child makes a mistake or experiences failure, see if you can help them embrace it as a learning experience, rather than as a reflection of their self. (For a life-changing book on this topic, read Carol Dweck's book "Mindset.")

What strategies or apps have helped YOUR child manage symptoms of ADHD and get stuff done?

Laura Figueroa