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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is not a learning disability — but ADHD symptoms, such as inattentiveness and impulsivity, can introduce wrinkles into a child’s ability to learn in traditional school. Further complicating the picture: many kids with an ADHD diagnosis are gifted in one or more area; if these twice exceptional students don’t receive enough stimulation, their boredom could aggravate their symptoms, leading to behavioral problems.
These interwoven challenges can complicate efforts to find a school setting that meets the needs of a child with ADHD: a space in which they can find opportunities to be themselves, to grow, to be creative and to self-regulate.
While some families formalize an individualized education plan (IEP) in public school (or seek similar accommodations in private school), others consider non-traditional options that afford a high level of customization, including homeschooling.
ADHD presents differently in every child and homeschooling looks different for every family. It’s up to you to bring the two together in the way that most makes sense. Each family’s exact formula will be unique. But here’s what we know about how homeschooling can benefit kids with ADHD and how to make the most of the experience.
In a traditional classroom, there are sensory inputs of all kinds. A regular schedule of bells, posters and decorations everywhere, other kids, loudspeaker announcements, classroom visitors, hallway chaos — the list goes on and on. While accommodations can help ADHD kids find a quiet space to focus, get out their wiggles or take additional time on a test, they can feel a little like a drop in the ocean.
In contrast, homeschooling families can be as creative and adaptive as they like in engineering the ideal environment for their child. Things like facing their desk toward a blank wall, using noise canceling headphones, or using sensory chairs are just the tip of the iceberg. At home they might be able to have a totally private room, grab healthy foods whenever needed, have a spontaneous dance party to get out their wiggles, or attend class while in their sensory swing.
Part of designing the environment includes designing your homeschool day in such a way that your child can thrive: an academic school day doesn’t need to be 8 hours long, when you’re receiving individualized instruction. Since homeschooled children can be more efficient in their schoolwork, there is plenty of time for regular breaks for exercise or physical sensory experiences.
Note: If you live in a colder climate, it's important to have some indoor tools for homeschooling kids to stay moving in the winter, such as an exercise ball, a sensory swing, spinner, crash pad, trampoline, sensory sock, or climbing triangle.
You can also look at the ebb and flow of your child’s energy and focus throughout the day and set up the schedule accordingly: is mid-morning the golden moment to learn math? Is the hour before lunch the Bermuda Triangle where all good intentions vanish? With a little trial and error you can figure out which hours of the day are best for focused learning and which need to be dedicated to downtime or free play.
The flexible scheduling means that you can let your child use one of the superpowers of the ADHD brain: the ability to hyper-focus on topics of interest. Rather than chop up their day into short blocks that break their concentration, they can have an inventor’s afternoon or a discovery day to allow them to dig the rabbit hole of their choice.
The icing on the customization cake comes when you drill down into how your child learns best: Do they learn a lot from worksheets? Multi-media videos? Educational video games? Hands-on projects? (We find that the kinesthetic approach often checks a lot of boxes for kids with ADHD.) The answer might be different for each subject; homeschool parents get to mix and match on their way to developing — and diversifying — their child’s learning style.
At Prisma, we find that a variety of modalities serves our diverse population of learners well: We curate a multimedia library of material for students to explore when they’re diving into a new theme. For kids with ADHD who struggle with auditory processing, recorded videos and lectures provide an opportunity to relisten at their own pace, developing a muscle that might otherwise be ignored.
One of the struggles common to ADHD kids — especially those with hyperactivity or impulsivity — is that they often get bombarded with messaging that emphasizes all the ways they’re not behaving ‘correctly,’ compared to their neurotypical classmates.
That can take a psychological toll, especially if they are labeled “below grade level” in certain subjects, like language arts.
At home, you set the tone. Grade level can become totally irrelevant: instead, the focus can be on growth.
On the one hand, you can take the opportunity to talk them through behavioral missteps in low-stakes situations, away from the watchful eyes of other kiddos. On the other hand, you can also choose to prioritize certain areas of growth as part of your homeschool journey — and let others go.
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We’ve written at length about our recommendations for a homeschool program in general, and we’re doubling down on that recommendation for kids with ADHD: a student-led program that includes a set routine with ample time for individual exploration (and movement)
While this philosophy holds for all learners, we find that for kids with ADHD, good habits can be a life-changer in terms of getting things done, and the longer blocks of creative time allow them to tap into their hyper-focus superpower.
To help with concentration, make sure that the curriculum does not rely heavily on lectures, and that any auditory material includes recordings that students can review at their leisure. Workshops should be highly engaging — not large webinars — with collaborative activities chunked into manageable tasks that they can work on with their peers.
Finally, since executive functioning is one of the core challenges of kids with ADHD, we recommend a curriculum that emphasizes getting students deeply involved in their own education, from the daily scheduling to the big-picture goal-setting. We like to let kids take the lead in recognizing their strengths, troubleshooting their challenges, and adapting their plans to the current situation. At the same time, their coaches and cohort of peers are always ready to jump in with a shout-out to celebrate all their growth.
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