teen overwhelmed with homework

10 Homework Strategies for Teens with ADHD and Autism

Hi, I’m Edie Brown. I’d like to share what makes me happy. Today’s blog? It’s about my biggest teaching challenge: Assigning appropriate homework to teens with ADHD and Autism.

All you need is faith and a great professor-mentor. I have them both.

Assigning adequate and appropriate homework is challenging. It’s designed to reinforce what students are taught in class. It also reinforces course content. At its best, homework provides preparatory reading and furthers understanding. Unfortunately, it can also be a meaningless activity designed to keep students busy. It’s especially controversial for students with disabilities. Here are 10 ways to help make the process smoother for “our kids” with ADHD and Autism.

Traveling in the Wayback Machine, I was substitute teaching for a friend who was on maternity leave. Montgomery Village Middle School…pre-algebra. Today’s class was a “general education” class. No kids with disabilities…or so I thought.

James came storming up to my desk before class started. “You gave me a zero for homework a week ago!” Now I have a B instead of an A!”

Knowing my relationship with paper, I knew I could have made a mistake. “Show it to me and I’ll correct it right now.”

He brought me his binder and I knew there was trouble brewing. It looked like a bomb exploded in it. I offered to help, but he cussed me out. Growing up in Philadelphia, I wasn’t phased by his language. I just walked away.

I called James’ mom and explained the situation. I was shocked to find out that he was diagnosed with ADHD but didn’t have an IEP. She explained that his disability didn’t have an impact on his academic performance…or so MCPS says.

My doctoral psychology professor explained the situation to me. He suggested that the parents pursue a 504 Plan. As an outsider, I saw that everyone wanted James to succeed. We just needed a bigger mind, my professor. With his help, I facilitated the process with the cooperative family and school. Everyone won out in the end. God is good.

I’m reminded of the song by Leann Womack. “When you get the choice to sit it out or dance…Dance!”

What does the research say about homework?

The ongoing debate on assigning homework pervades the education community. The research shows that the answer is complex, taking into account factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, and economic status. As a whole, homework is beneficial, but only to a degree. 

High school assignments provide more gains, elementary grades much less. Lower grades should focus on developing a love of learning. Middle-grade assignments should center around reviewing material/concepts introduced in class and improving basic study skills. High school students should work on assignments that foster independence.

What are specific challenges resulting from ADHD/Autism?

As a result of inherent symptoms of ADHD and Autism, inattentiveness is common. So is distractability. These are especially prevalent when a student is under stress. 

Overwhelm is tied to a lack of focus. Students are presented with too many challenges with not enough solutions. Without support, it is unlikely that students will find a resolution and move forward.

People with ADHD and Autism aren’t known for their organizational skills. In fact, executive functioning disorder is common. EFD results when they experience difficulty getting work done efficiently and effectively.

  • Purchase a planner/notebook or digital calendar.
  • Get a set of textbooks/reading materials to keep at home.
  • Color-code subjects.
  • Use pictures and diagrams to illustrate concepts.
  • Chunk large assignments into smaller tasks.

Homework Strategies You Can Start Right Away

  • Make sure that assignments come home. Make sure that information is copied correctly and that the student understands the assignment requirements. Keep track of milestones and due dates.
  • Create a “completed work” folder. It serves as a reminder and centralized location for parents, teachers, and students.
  • Create a designated homework spot. Keep it stocked with homework tools and reference materials. Watch out for distractions.
  • Have a specific homework time. Recognize/incorporate fluctuating daily energy levels. Make sure that it’s written down.
  • Designate a home-based “point person.” Consider content knowledge, availability, and chemistry with the student.
  • Make a to-do list before starting. It establishes a predictable routine and priorities to be completed.
  • Use the Pareto Principle. Schedule regular breaks (work 25 minutes, rest for 5 minutes).
  • Respect their “saturation point.” Consider learning strengths and sensory needs. Stop before meltdowns occur.
  • Pack up the night before. Have a morning double-check time set aside too.

“Reduced Workload” Accommodations – Make it Official

The 10-Minute Homework Guideline is designed to help teachers determine the right amount of homework. The suggestion is to assign 10 minutes of homework for each grade level (total for all subjects).

  • 6th grade – 60 minutes (1 hour)
  • 7th grade – 70 minutes (1 hour, 10 minutes)
  • 8th grade – 80 minutes (1 hour, 20 minutes)
  • 9th grade – 90 minutes (1.5 hours)
  • 10th grade – 100 minutes (1 hour, 40 minutes)
  • 11th grade – 110 minutes (1 hour, 50 minutes)
  • 12th grade – 120 minutes (2 hours)

Successful homework assignments are based on the quality of design. Teachers must identify how well it meets student needs. While elementary-grade homework should cultivate a love of learning, upper-level work should prepare for scholarly learning by delving deeper into content. It should also foster independence, allowing students to complete work without assistance.

A “Reduced Workload” accommodation in an IEP lightens frustration while allowing students with disabilities to demonstrate what they’ve learned. It does not eliminate assignments, it reduces the amount of work required within specific guidelines. For example, I allowed my students with disabilities to complete 50% of math homework assignments, with a 15-minute time limit. They had free choice on which problems they worked on. 


Homework is work done in preparation for a particular event or situation. Students gain information by reading and answering questions. Teachers and other education professionals should be mindful of the specific needs of students with ADHD and Autism. Use IEP and 504 Plan goals and accommodations to build independence skills needed later in life. Present these strategies as a means to further conversations and plan development.

Copyright © 2023 by Edna Brown. All Rights Reserved.







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