Structured Homework Strategy Helps ADHD Kids

Study Shows Homework Problems Improve With a Program That Takes a Structured Approach

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on August 16, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 16, 2010 -- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and homework problems often go together. Now, a simple and structured approach to doing homework appears to cut homework problems by more than half, according to a new study.

''The drop in the problems related to homework were very dramatic," says researcher George Kapalka, PhD, associate professor and interim chair of the department of psychological counseling at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J.

He presented his findings this week at the American Psychological Association annual meeting in San Diego.

Typically, children with ADHD have problems with self-control -- simply not wanting to do the homework -- or with forgetfulness -- forgetting to write down assignments and to take home everything they need to complete it, Kapalka tells WebMD.

His approach addresses both issues, he says.

ADHD and Homework: The Approach

Kapalka evaluated 39 children, ages 6 to 10, and enrolled the help of their 39 teachers. Teachers taught a mainstream or inclusion class that included at least one student with ADHD.


All students in the study had problems with homework.

All students in the study were boys, and all had "combined type" ADHD. The most common type, it includes symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity/impulsiveness.

More than half the students were on medications to treat their ADHD, Kapalka tells WebMD. If they weren't on medications at the start of the study, they didn't start them during the study. If they were on medications, they didn't change the dose during the study, so that the effect of the program could be evaluated more effectively.

The students were randomly assigned to a treatment group or a comparison group with no intervention.

Those in the treatment group:

  • Showed their teacher their homework journal, in which everything was written down about assignments, before going home.
  • Were required to start homework within an hour after school dismissal time and to work in a quiet setting.
  • Were not allowed to watch television or play video games until homework was done.
  • Were not allowed to watch TV or use the computer for a day if they didn't bring home the journal or forgot anything for the day's homework assignments.

ADHD and Homework Study: Results

After two to three weeks, the groups were re-evaluated. That's when Kapalka found the 50% improvement.

''You never see complete deletion of the problem," he tells WebMD. But when he looked at a variety of homework issues and scored the treatment group's performance, he found a ''dramatic'' improvement, he says.

''There was more than a 50% drop in homework problems in the treatment group compared to the control group."

Parents could ask a teacher to help in the same way, he says. But a teacher may resist, he says. Some contend it will be a ''crutch'' for the child, he has found. But he thinks that "they have to realize this is what it will take for the child to improve."

ADHD and Homework Help: Second Opinion

The approach looks good and is especially suitable for children with ADHD, says Richard Ferman, MD, a psychiatrist in Encino, Calif., who cares for students with ADHD. He reviewed the study for WebMD but was not involved in it.


''These are the kinds of things we try to recommend," he says of Kapalka's approach. "ADHD kids do great in [a program with] structure," he says. "It's essential, because they are not able to structure themselves."

The most difficult part of Kapalka's program, Ferman says, may be the parents holding firm on the rules.

WebMD Health News



George M. Kapalka, PhD, interim chair, department of psychological counseling, Monmouth University, West Long Branch, N.J.; author, Parenting Your Out-of-Control Child.

Richard Ferman, MD, psychiatrist, Encino, Calif.

Annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, San Diego, Aug. 12-15, 2010.

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