"An interesting piece of work, freely chosen, which has the virtue of inducing concentration rather than fatigue, adds to the child's energies and mental capacities, and leads him to self-mastery." (bold text added)
This is part three of a four part series about work avoidance in children and teens with ADHD. This post deals with cognitive fatigue and working memory.
Problem #3 - The assignment is too long, too tedious, or requires a lot of working memory.
This is the issue that we are most familiar with. Children with ADHD have a limited amount of time that they can attend to a given task. Even adults with ADHD/ADD have to break up tasks into 15-20 minute blocks. What we often don’t realize is the amount of working memory a task requires. A writing assignment that will take the neurotypical child 15 minutes may take a child with ADHD twice as long. Writing requires an extraordinary amount of working memory.
Psychoeducational reports often talk about breaking work down into smaller, manageable chunks. That is always a good starting place. Here are some other ideas as well.
• Try to make the make the task an active one. Writing doesn’t count, and neither do projects. I’m talking about repetitive, tedious activities like memorizing spelling words or learning multiplication tables. Find tasks to do on-line. Teachers can create quizzes at sites like Socrative. Khan Academy and IXL provide math drills in an interesting but game-free environment. Do addition problems can with manipulatives like pennies, raisins, or other household items. Bounce balls or skip rope while learning spelling words. Parents might also be more likely to help and support if it’s an activity that is enjoyable.
• Teach writing in “layers”. Before completing a formal graphic organizer, young writers can learn to think about the prompt. What words and ideas does it bring to mind? Putting those words and phrases on paper provides material for the pre-writing document. Writing this way reduces the cognitive load and speeds up the process.
• Remember that children with ADHD have an attention span that is 2-3 years less than their neurotypical peers. – 10 minutes of homework per grade is the general standard. Make sure your student has to do ALL 30 math problems to prove mastery.
• Teach children how to switch between tasks. We often resist this, because for the neurotypical person it can create confusion. Children with ADHD can use this technique to maintain appropriate stimulation and arousal. Research shows that attention revives when the task changes. A few years ago, I showed a young lady now to set her watch for a 15 minute alarm, and switch between two different tasks each time it went off. This went a long way toward keeping her from wandering around the classroom because she felt bored. She was able to finish her work.
In the last installment of this series, we will talk about children who have given up trying. Even though they may be discouraged, there are lots of ways we can help encourage and restore their belief in themselves.