A homeschooling mom asked me for help for her teen who has A.D.D. at the Homeschool Sanity Facebook page. I gave her some helpful links and promised to do an episode on the topic. I’m looking forward to sharing with you in a bit, but I would love to invite you to like the Homeschool Sanity page as well. I get great questions as well as excellent ideas there. You can find the page at Facebook.com/motivatedhomeschooler or just search for Homeschool Sanity on Facebook.
Teaching Tip of the Week
This week’s teaching tip is to make room for Christmas activities in your homeschool. Instead of trying to add them to an already packed-to-the-brim schedule, make Christmas your curriculum. You can do that by not doing formal school at all, doing a Christmas unit study, or by substituting Christmas activities for specific subjects. I have some examples for you. Instead of doing your regular Bible coursework, use an Advent devotional. Instead of your normal read-alouds, read a Christmas book. Do Christmas crafts for art, study Christmas around the world for geography, or get really crazy and watch Christmas movies. You can study history and literature that way. Use my funny winter writing prompts for writing and play Christmas relays for P.E. Above all, allow Christmas to be a peaceful, joyful time in your homeschool, rather than a stressful one.
Organized Homeschool Challenge of the Week
How to Help Your Homeschooled Teen with A.D.D.
Attention Deficit/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is more commonly known as ADD/ADHD. There are three types: inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive, or the combined type. In teens, hyperactivity/impulsivity is diminished. A.D.D. (which is the term I will use for the rest of this episode) is characterized by difficulty sustaining attention, forgetfulness, and disorganization. These difficulties must significantly interfere with daily functioning to warrant a diagnosis. Many teens with A.D.D. are exceptionally bright, creative students. Some have associated learning disabilities or other diagnoses that must be addressed in addition to the A.D.D. A.D.D. is believed to be a genetically-based neurological disorder. There is no test to determine whether your child has A.D.D. Instead, medical and mental health professionals experienced with A.D.D. assess the patient, including a thorough history from those familiar with his habits and work. I say “his” because boys are three times more likely to have A.D.D.
Medication can be an effective treatment for A.D.D. in teens, especially for restlessness and focus. But teaching compensation skills is critical if your child has a diagnosis or even if he just has some of the symptoms. Fortunately, homeschooling is extremely valuable for students with these challenges.
Before I share some tips for you, I want to encourage your to listen to my interview with Carol Barnier on homeschooling distractible kids. Much of what she shares is applicable to teens. I also want you to know that as well as treating clients with A.D.D., I have some of the characteristics of A.D.D. myself. I have had to learn by trial and error how to compensate for them. I also have a teen son with A.D.D. characteristics. I say “characteristics” because I wouldn’t diagnose it in myself or my son. The challenges are not significantly interfering with functioning, though there are days.
My first suggestion for you as the home educator is to limit material that is boring to your teen. While no one likes to study boring subjects, it’s particularly challenging for a teen with A.D.D. to do so. That means if your daughter hates math, only require her to do three courses in high school or the minimum that is required for the college or career that she is interested in. For the courses she must complete, choose curriculum that engages her with her primary learning style. Life of Fred math works beautifully for my son because it involves reading which he loves, it’s short, and amusing. Konos‘s high school curriculum would be perfect for a student who doesn’t like to read as much as do. Don’t be afraid to use audio books or videos to teach your teen if it engages him. Finally, cut out any unnecessary work from curriculum that your teen struggles to focus on. As long as your student learns the material and can demonstrate that learning, limit requirements to any that your state, umbrella school, or future college requires.
The flip side of this suggestion is to give your teen lots of latitude in studying subjects that interest her. If she is passionate about horses, create an elective course with objectives she helps create. There is definitely room for electives in junior high and high school. Remember that your teen can do an apprenticeship in an area that interests him as well. Your son could assist a computer repair specialist, for example. Simply write down what your teen plans to do and the objectives for the course. If your teen isn’t sure what to study, ask him what he thinks about most of the time. He can learn more about that subject and count it as school.
My second suggestion is to support focused learning. Whether your teen has ADD or not, shorter study sessions are more effective. Set a timer for 20 minutes of work to be followed by a 5 minute break. That’s a suggestion. But experiment with your teen to determine what times are most effective for him. When I say experiment, I’m serious. Record the time of day, environment, subject, and time spent studying to learn what works best for him. You can count this as a science experiment.
Most teens with A.D.D. do best in an environment free of distractions. One homeschool mom I know found that her son did better studying at the public library than at home. During study times, electronics may need to be put aside as well. When I forgot my cell phone in the car when my son was at the dentist, I was shocked by how much writing I completed using pen and paper. Your teen may benefit from low-tech work as well. As far as noise, have your teen try focusatwill.com. It’s sounds that have been developed to help people focus. It’s not music with lyrics or a great beat, but forms of white noise. You can get a free trial before deciding if it’s worth paying for.
My final suggestion is to support organization. Teens with ADD are forgetful and don’t know where to begin to organize their materials. My first suggestion is to give your teen a smart device like an iPod or phone and teach him how to use it to stay organized. My life was completely changed when I got an iPhone and developed the habit of adding everything to Google calendar. My phone alerted me to appointments, so I stopped missing them–something that had increased my stress level and decreased my self-esteem. Teach your teen never to rely on memory, but to always record information in the same place in the same way. Once I adopted the habit of never locking my car with the door locks, but only with the key fob, I stopped locking my keys in the car.
Use a simple color strategy for organizing paperwork. Ask your teen to assign a color to a subject. The red notebook is for math, for example. File folders can match. Forget about pretty, impractical organizing methods. Make materials that are frequently used visible, accessible, and easy to put away. Notice how your teen uses his materials now and support him in keeping them together by putting a bin or a box near where he typically keeps them. Teach your teen a simple way of keeping tasks top-of-mind. A simple digital to-do list on a smart device could work. A list on a dry-erase board on the refrigerator or wherever he works may be even better. Put the list in order of due date, but make sure he works ahead every day. The quarterly checklist I created for schoolwork may be helpful. He can see exactly what has to be done this quarter. You can help him see what should be done this week and then write out his tasks for today on a dry erase board. Encourage him to reward himself with a favorite activity for getting his tasks done. Finally, check out the book Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD by Susan Pinsky. It’s chock full of practical ideas.
Today’s Action Steps
Limit boring material. Take full advantage of the freedom you have in homeschooling to eliminate the dull stuff or make it exciting. Support focused learning. Discover together what works best for your student. Knowing this will be critically important if he takes college courses. Support organization. Give your teen the tools she needs to keep her belongings and tasks organized. Start by reading the book Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD.
The Homeschool Sanity Show will be on Christmas break until December 29th, 2015 when I will share how the next year can be your most organized year ever.
Have a happy homeschool week!