ADHD: Tips for Online Learning

ADHD's effects can be challenging in the classroom, where kids need to sit still, listen to teachers, and complete their work on time. A switch to online learning solves some of these issues, like distractions from noisy classmates. But it brings its own set of difficulties. Kids with ADHD may need some extra help to stay on track.

Here are some tips to set your child up for success in a virtual classroom.

Plan Ahead, but Be Flexible

Home learning removes the structure that kids with ADHD need. Without a clear daily schedule, it's easier for them to put off tasks they'd rather not do.

Work with your child to draw up a plan or schedule for each day. Post it in their learning area, or, for an older child, in a shared online document. Include all of their classes, tests, and assignments.

Help them set alarms on their smartphone or computer to go off when it's time to switch classes, take breaks, or turn in work. You might ask an older child to email you whenever they complete a task. With a younger child, check in often to make sure they stay on schedule and show up for classes on time.

If they don't, reinforce the need to stay on track, but cut them some slack. You can't expect your child to always be able to stick to a schedule, manage their time, and stay focused on their own.

Make sure you allow time for breaks -- to take a walk, eat a snack, or play a video game. Kids with ADHD may only be able to focus for about 45 minutes at a time. They need to give their brains a rest every so often to avoid burnout.

Stick to a Routine

Routines are important for everyone, but especially for kids with ADHD. Wake your child up at the same time as if they were going to school. Have them get dressed and eat breakfast every morning, just like they used to do.

Make sure your child gets enough sleep, which will help with focus and behavior. To help them get their ZZZs, turn off all screens an hour before bedtime.

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Take ADHD Medication

Your child should take their ADHD medicine at the same time as usual. If you can't get to the doctor's office for your child's monthly prescription checkup, your doctor may be able to write a 60- or 90-day prescription instead. Call their office to ask.

Banish Distractions

If possible, set up a quiet study area in your home that's free from visual distractions like big windows or posters on the walls. You might put up pieces of cardboard on either side of your child's computer to act as blinders.

Turn off the TV or radio, unless your child concentrates better with background noise. If so, put on soft music.

Ask your child to put their cellphone and other electronics away until class is over. You can't take away the computer when school takes place online, but you can block access to distracting websites with programs like Freedom or Cold Turkey, or Google Chrome extensions like Dayboard or Forest.

Don't Over-Manage

Virtual learning puts parents into the role of teacher. Not every parent has the time or patience to handle this job, especially when they also have to work from home.

Keep in mind that your child learns independence by managing their own schedule. Oversee the school day, but don't hover or take over.

Embrace Your Child's Learning Style

Some kids with ADHD can't sit at a desk all day. Don't force it. Let your child lie on the floor, sit in a beanbag chair, or walk around the room if they learn better that way. They can even go out onto the front porch or in the backyard.

Build in Exercise Breaks

Just 30 minutes of moderate-to-intense aerobic exercise a day can boost kids' focus and mood. And they can spread out the 30 minutes through the day. Try to get in some activity each morning before school starts. Take a jog around the block together or play a quick game of soccer.

If your child gets more fidgety as the day goes on, take movement breaks. Encourage them to do a few jumping jacks. Or turn on music and let them dance for 10-15 minutes to burn off extra energy.

Don't forget hydration breaks, too. ADHD medications can be dehydrating. That can make your child feel tired and achy and affect their schoolwork. Eight glasses of water a day should do the trick.

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Foster Social Time

While switching to home learning can bring relief to kids with learning differences who've been bullied at school, being separated from other kids can set back their social skills.

When clubs or team sports aren't an option, set up phone calls with friends and family or virtual playdates on FaceTime or Skype. Age-appropriate use of social media can help, too.

Stay in Touch

Check in regularly with your child's teachers and other members of their school support team by phone or email. They can help you understand what strategies work for your child and let you know how your child is progressing with their classes. You can also tell them about concerns you may have.

If your child has an individualized education program (IEP) or 504 plan for ADHD, it's still in place even when classes move online. Talk to school staff about how they can provide the services and accommodations your child needs.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on April 17, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: "ADHD and Homeschooling," "ADHD? Learning Disability? It May Be Both," "ADHD or Normal Procrastination?" "How Do You Work from Home and Help Kids Navigate Remote Learning?" "When Children With ADHD Attend School from Home: An Expert's Tips," "Keeping Extra ADHD Medication on Hand."

Child Mind Institute: "ADHD and Behavior Problems," "ADHD and Exercise," "Support for Kids with ADHD During the Coronavirus Crisis."

GreatSchools.org: "Homeschooling Kids with LD or ADHD: The pros and cons."

University of North Carolina: "Online and Remote Learning: Tips for Students with ADHD."

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Finding Ways to Keep Kids Occupied During These Challenging Times."

U.S. Department of Education: "Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children With Disabilities."

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