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Managing homework when your children have special needs

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Managing homework can be a nightmare for parents, particularly if their children have special needs. Homework can be a problem for many reasons including:

  • Children's inability to get homework assignments written down.
  • Children's exhaustion at the end of the school day.
  • Children's problems with handwriting.
  • Children not understanding instructions or taking them literally.
  • Children forgetting to bring home the materials they need for homework.

Every child is different so what works for one child may not work for another. Here are some ideas which I found useful.

Talk to your children's doctors about homework expectations

At the outset, discuss your children's homework with their medical providers. They should give you guidance about what to expect from your children based on their diagnoses. Ask them:

  • How much time your children should spend on homework?
  • If they recommend any accommodations or adaptations to homework for your children?

You may need to ask for written reports to bring to your children's schools.

Find out if your school has a homework policy

Many schools and school districts have policies about the amount of homework teachers should give their students. The National Education Association and the National Parent Teacher Association both recommend that children spend ten minutes on homework per grade. So children in second grade should spend 20 minutes on homework and children in twelfth grade should spend 120 minutes.

Meet with your children's teachers

At the start of each term or school year meet with your children's teachers to decide:

  • The maximum amount of time your children should spend on homework.
  • What subject or subjects to prioritize.
  • What adaptations to homework can be made - for example, instead of having children write complete sentences, adapt homework so children only have to fill in the blanks?
  • If handwriting is an issue, can a parent or friend act as a scribe? Or, can the work be done on a computer?
  • If your children have difficulty writing down homework assignments, can they be emailed to you?

Other tips

Ask teachers not to assign "busy work" if your children are struggling to get homework done.

Make sure your children have enough time at the end of the school day to organize their book bags with what they need for homework.

If there are ten questions on the same learning point, talk to the teacher about having your children do five. For example, if the homework assignment is to find the subject in ten sentences, can your children do five sentences instead?

If homework continues to be a problem, talk with your children's teachers about making additional accommodations.

Managing homework is an ongoing process, and you may need to meet with your children's teachers several times throughout the year.

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