Schedules & Distractions

If you have a child with ADHD, chances are you have to repeat directions over and over again — and your child still doesn’t do as you asked. Children with ADHD have trouble understanding and following steps in a process. Their brains have difficulty grasping a sequence of events, which leads to disorganization. Daily schedules at home can help increase awareness and organization.

Make a List of Daily Routines

First, make a list of daily routines, such as brushing teeth and getting dressed. Post the list somewhere visible in the house, for example on the refrigerator. Keep each step simple and clear, such as “eat breakfast” or “clean room.”

If you have a small child who can’t read, use pictures instead of words. If your child has trouble remembering what should happen next, ask them to look at the list. Praise your child or offer rewards when they complete a task from the list.

Morning Routine

Create a specific routine for getting your child ready and out the door. Have your child perform tasks in a specific order. For example:

  • put on your clothes
  • brush your teeth and hair
  • make your bed
  • eat breakfast

This will save you from having to direct the child every time they finish a task.

If your child is off task or asks “What should I do next?”, point to the chart or schedule. If you have limited time in the morning, have your child set clothes out the night before or pack belongings for school ahead of time.

Nighttime Routine

Children with ADHD often have trouble falling asleep. This may be due to abnormal REM sleep patterns or stimulation from medications. Help your child sleep better by developing a regular routine before bed.

First, create a calm environment for sleep. Dim the lights, reduce noise, and lower the temperature. Reading a book, listening to calm music, or taking a soothing bath can help them relax before bed. Make sure your child gets to bed at the same time every night, even on the weekends.

Homework Routine

Keeping your child focused on homework can be challenging. It can take a long time and you have to direct your child’s attention constantly. A homework routine can help.

Have your child do schoolwork in the same space and time each day. Set a timer and have your child work in short segments. The younger the child, the shorter amount of time. Allow them to take breaks between segments.

Once your child finishes their homework, have them put it away immediately, such as in a backpack or special folder. This will emphasize completion.

Create the Proper Environment

Children with ADHD are lost when it comes to organization. Being surrounded by constant clutter can lead to further distraction. They need a clean, organized environment so that their minds have fewer opportunities to wander.

Get Organized

Use bins, shelves, or other containers to organize toys and books in the home. Then, use pictures or labels to identify the containers. Research supports the idea that increased organization — in the classroom and home — directly affects school performance. Encourage your child to participate in cleanup on a regular basis to foster organizational skills.

Eliminate Distractions

To eliminate distractions, you need to identify your child’s key triggers. TV, cell phones, and scattered toys can cause your child to be less focused. However, for some children, background noise like TV or music at a low volume can actually aid in concentration. Be aware of what distracts your child, and then slowly eliminate these factors when your child needs to concentrate, such as during homework or chore time.

Designate a Quiet Place to Study

With your child’s help, find a place that’s comfortable, relaxing, and has minimal distractions. Make sure that the area is well lit and has plenty of school supplies. It might take a few tries to locate the right spot. Once you do, have your child work there every day.

Help Your Child Prepare for College

For teenagers, the transition from high school to college is an exciting and scary time. For adolescents with ADHD who don’t deal well with change, moving to college can be a source of anxiety and confusion. There will be more opportunities for distraction and less structure — especially if your child plans to live away from home.

Begin Preparing Early

Like many teenagers, kids with ADHD often put off the kind of tasks that college applications require. Some students with ADHD have trouble planning or committing to important deadlines. Help your child navigate the college maze by creating a long-term schedule of application deadlines and a checklist of what they need to complete for each application.

Your child should also prepare for the ACT and SAT as early as possible. Some experts recommend beginning as early as sophomore year of high school. Your child may also have accommodations for testing written skills in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504. These programs offer specialized instructions and services for students with an identified disability. Be sure to contact the test administrator in advance to make sure your child meets all the necessary requirements.

Find a College That Matches Your Child’s Needs

As you visit college campuses and conduct research, focus on schools that match your teen’s individual learning style and goals. For instance, does your child learn best from lectures or through hands-on research? Are the college’s population and campus large or small? For some, living at home while attending a local junior college may be the best option. This will allow them to draw on structured support at home while learning to navigate a new educational environment on a less intimidating scale.

Find Support Services

Once your teen chooses a college, it’s time to find on-campus support. Most colleges and universities offer services for students with learning disabilities. Try to visit the college over the summer and inquire about support services.

Find out if accommodations such as alternative testing or individual tutoring are available. Inquire about the college’s writing resource center if your child struggles with writing assignments. Service staff can also help your child communicate special needs to professors, such as extra time to take tests, or specific seating. Make a separate plan with your teen to ensure that all of their professors are contacted. 

Develop a Time Management Routine

Before leaving for school, discuss with your teen how they’ll manage their time, schedules, and workload. There’s a lot of free, unstructured time in college, and the workload for a full-time student can be hefty. Create a plan that balances studying and socializing.

You can’t micromanage from afar, but you can help your child develop a daily routine based on their class schedule. Stay in touch and check in often. The first semester is usually the most difficult, so set up a line of communication via phone, email, or Skype.

What’s the Takeaway?

Routines can help a child with ADHD know what to expect and how to follow instructions. Adolescents with ADHD, however, have an extra set of obstacles to overcome. Work with your teen to develop habits and routines that encourage organization and time management. Teach them how to remove distractions and follow a schedule. This will ensure ADHD doesn’t prohibit your child from receiving an excellent education.