Autism Unexpected: Homework Hell

There are a lot of challenges that come with parenting a special needs child. There are the Big Worries about The Future as well as social problems, independence issues, and a plethora of other concerns. But day to day in the trenches, the struggle to get Jack to do homework often ranks highest on my list of Practical Difficulties with an Autistic Kid.

I have tried everything. I have tried sweet talk, praise, bribery, threats, ignoring, rewards, incentives, nonchalance, peer pressure, finger pointing, mini-trampoline jumping breaks, passing the buck to my husband, turning his math into a game, and making his reading questions tie into his obsessive scripting. Once I even constructed a homework coach out of Legos. There are times when these strategies work and there are times when they don’t, but even when they do work, they only work for a few days and then I have to find something new.

Every afternoon after school I open Jack’s backpack and take out his homework. On the occasional Monday when there is no weekly reading packet, I do a mental happy dance. When the math teacher doesn’t send home a worksheet I send her a silent thank you. And when Jack didn’t do all his work at school so it gets sent home for him to do on top of his every day math and reading? I cry a little inside.

Did I mention that he’s in first grade? I can’t even imagine what my and Jack’s after-school lives will be like in middle school.

Jack’s homework should take a half hour at most. It almost always takes us between one and two hours to finish. Some days—today for instance—the homework battle stretched to more than three hours.

The really frustrating thing for me, I think, is that Jack could do his homework standing on his head. The kid is so smart. This afternoon when I was quizzing him on his spelling words, which is the only part of his homework he seems to like, he made each of the words plural, including “penny,” which he correctly changed to “P-E-N-N-I-E-S.”

I have tried so many times to tell him that if he just sat down and did his work then he could play at whatever he wants for the rest of the day. But he either just doesn’t get it or is incapable of making himself sit down and do the work.

Instead he hems and haws. He gets distracted by his brothers. He wants to draw a picture of whatever story he is obsessed with at the time. He squirms around on his seat until he falls off of his chair. He complains. He makes his angry face. He growls at me. And, often, in his sad little voice, he will say, “I’m tired of homework.”

Me too, Jack. Me too.

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on January 6, 2010.