For many families, the ban on the COVID pandemic and homeschooling has seemed endless. But there were some silver linings.

Our new research, published in two papers, looked at children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) during lockdown to understand what homeschooling was like for them.

We surveyed over 100 Australian parents of children with ADHD, asking them about their strengths, challenges and strategies they used.

While this has informed pandemic learning, there are lessons to be learned beyond quarantine.

As the number of COVID cases remains high, so does the potential for more homeschooling. But parents can also use our results to help with homework, and teachers can apply them in their elementary and middle school classrooms.

It comes amid calls from parents to better support children with ADHD at school.

Remind me what ADHD is?

ADHD begins in childhood and occurs in approximately 5% of children and adolescents worldwide.

Symptoms can include difficulty staying focused, controlling impulses (including the ability to pause and think), planning and organizing tasks, and managing time and things.

Children with ADHD experience more difficulties in school and learning compared to their non-ADHD peers.

Medications can help reduce inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. But to succeed in school, children with ADHD also need other supports.

Our conclusions

Our research found that Australian parents faced challenges during the lockdown.

Of those surveyed, 25% said it was difficult for them to keep their children on task while homeschooling. Similar numbers also report children’s lack of motivation (22%) and difficulty with the format, structure and delivery of online learning (19%). If the child had problems with attention and symptoms of anxiety, this most likely made it difficult to learn at home.

But there were advantages.

Of those surveyed, 20% of parents noted that their children have less anxiety and stress. Similar numbers also reported that they gained a better understanding of their child’s learning style and needs (20%) and more flexibility about how and when their child completes schoolwork (19%).

These benefits may be due to children receiving more individualized support and more opportunities to personalize learning for their child.

What strategies have helped?

According to our research, the most common helpful homeschooling strategies for Australian children with ADHD were:

  • having a routine/organization and time management, including waking up at a set time each day and then sticking to the schedule
  • parents are actively involved in their child’s work – they keep track of what work needs to be done and what work has been done
  • have a suitable space for children to work in that is quiet and free of distractions.

Advice for parents of children with ADHD

Our suggestions can be used during any future homeschooling or for parents helping their children with their homework. They can also be easily adapted by classroom teachers.

It is important to remember that children with ADHD are not intentionally trying to be naughty, impulsive, or absent-minded. For this reason, discipline will not be effective, but the following strategies can help:

  • focus on your child’s strengths and positive qualities – this is very important for building and maintaining self-esteem
  • praise and encourage a lot
  • ask your child about his struggles and then listen to his answers, acknowledge his feelings and don’t judge or just rush in to give advice. You can say, “I can see that you are very upset. Do you want to talk about it?” Recent studies show that children with ADHD want to have positive social connections.
  • provide gentle redirection when your child gets distracted – you can say, “Wow! What a great job you’ve done so far. Keep it up!” instead of “Back to work!”
  • limit distractions – turn off TVs, silence phones and let siblings work or play elsewhere
  • work with your child from the start of the session to make sure they understand this and to help them plan next steps
  • give your child one or two instructions at a time
  • assist with time management – ​​this may include a visual schedule of required milestones/tasks
  • allow your child to use up energy while listening – this could include fidgeting, drawing or bouncing on a pilates ball – to help them concentrate
  • make sure your child takes regular study breaks. The frequency of these will depend on your child, it may be helpful to start with more frequent breaks and then adjust as needed.