Homework Completion for Kiddos with Autism Spectrum Disorder

This is one of those topics that really transcends Autism or special needs. The majority of clients who are in school have behavioral difficulties around homework: escape behaviors, noncompliance, aggression, tantrums, etc.

But guess what? So do neuro-typical kiddos!

It isn’t uncommon that we go into homes and clients need help completing homework successfully, and so do their older brother and younger sister. So definitely feel free to apply this information to any child you know of who has difficulty with independent and correct completion of age appropriate homework activities (that is the ultimate goal for homework).

Homework is such a common behavioral issue for families because it tends to combine multiple non-preferred tasks into one: completing academic tasks that may be very difficult, working on a task for an extended period of time, following multiple step instructions, working on a task independently, and working for delayed reinforcement. Add to that a situation that may be JUST as frustrating and non-preferred for the parent, and homework time tends to be bursting with problem behaviors.

So how can ABA therapy help with the bloody battle which is often homework time? ABA therapists approach the task of homework behaviorally. We focus on improving concrete behaviors that will allow the child to be more successful when completing homework, such as listening, attending, reading directions, sitting appropriately in the chair, tuning out noise or stimuli, writing, etc. We will work on homework by targeting problem behaviors the child is exhibiting to get out of, delay/avoid, or reduce homework expectations.

ABA therapists typically do not approach the task of homework academically. That means that the ABA therapist isn’t trying to teach the child how to do long division, their multiplication tables, or history lessons. ABA therapists are not tutors. If the child is an insurance client (the therapy is paid for via insurance) then it actually could be considered insurance fraud for the ABA therapist to spend hours teaching the child what a noun is. Insurance is paying for behavioral interventions, not academic tutoring. This may mean that the ABA therapist helps your child with homework, and all the questions don’t get answered. Or all the problems aren’t done correctly.

ABA therapists can help the child complete the homework for a specified amount of time, and direct the child to give the homework to mom or dad to check while the child and ABA therapist finish the session.

Common Homework Mistakes

Here are some of the most common mistakes parents can commit when trying to get a child with ASD to complete homework. This isn’t about shaming parents; it is about learning more effective strategies and better ways to tackle the problem of homework completion.

  • Arguing/Pleading with the child: Example- “Is that supposed to be a 3? Erase that and do it again that looks like an 8… yes it does… yes it does… yes it does…” Endless power struggles and arguments with the child are really just intended to distract the parent and delay the completion of homework. Arguing with a child is never necessary because as the adult, you are the final word. If your child is trying to pull you into an argument, don’t respond. Restate the demand and use prompting to help the child respond correctly.
  • Lack of transitions and priming: Example- Parent abruptly walks up to child “Okay, time to do your homework, come on.” Priming means you are stating expectations of behavior before the task. This could look like reminding the child to stay on task, that they can ask for help, and what reinforcement they can earn. Successful transitions would include telling the child at specific intervals that it is almost time to do homework, such as “it will be homework time in 5 minutes.” Successful transitions could also include making a visual schedule where homework is set for a specific time of day and the child knows that after a specific activity that it is always time for them to do homework.
  • NO REINFORCEMENT: Example- parents has child working on academic tasks for 40-60 minutes with no reinforcement given or praise. Reinforcement can be tangible, edible, short breaks, etc. With children who are very noncompliant or struggle with completing homework correctly it might be hard to praise or reinforce the child. If you can’t praise the child’s successful completion of the homework, you can praise their effort, or behaviors, such as “You are sitting so nicely!” or “I love how you are trying even though this is hard.”
  • Making Endless/Empty Threats: Example: “We will sit at this table all day until you complete your homework!” This sends a clear message to your child that you are tired and do not mean what you say. Stick to your original demand and avoid using unnecessary exaggerations or threats.
  • Doing Way Too Much Homework at Once: Instead of piling on a seemingly endless and daunting amount of work, break the homework down into sections, with easy tasks interspersed with difficult tasks.
  • “Helicopter” Mom or Dad: Example: when the parent hovers over the child, telling him where to sit, what to erase on his paper, and reading directions for the child. The goal for homework is that the child will complete it independently. In order to achieve that, it is important to not use excessive prompting. Offer the child choices so they feel more control. “What do you want to do first? Math or Writing?”
  • Using Time Out During Homework (PLEASE AVOID): If the child is doing homework (which is highly non-preferred), then sending them to time out is like sending them to Disneyland for a reprieve from their homework. You will likely then find it difficult for the child to come back and complete homework successfully, and problem behaviors will get worse. Instead, set a time limit on homework and set a powerful reinforcer. Tell the child if he or she finishes the homework before the timer, they receive the reinforcer.

We hope you find these helpful in your home and with your child! Feel free to comment with any additional questions!