The Power of Schedules to Help ADHD
Most kids and teens with ADHD seem to have difficulty following directions, and as parents ask, then nag, correct and repeat over and over, it can be frustrating for both the parents and the youth. It is common for youth with ADHD to have difficulty understanding a sequence of events such as steps, order and processes, which equates to disorganization and skipped or misplaced steps when given a set of instructions. Two things that can be helpful in reinforcing instructions and in learning sequence and steps is with developing daily schedules with routine tasks and limiting distractions. A schedule is a powerful tool in helping prevent procrastination.
First, develop a list together of daily routines that include the mundane to the more complex: brush teeth, wash face, comb hair, apply deodorant, get dressed, make and eat breakfast, etc. Decide together where you will post the list so that it is visible in the house like a bathroom mirror, refrigerator, bedroom door, etc. Keep the steps simple and clear, and if you have a small child or reading is an issue, use pictures in place of words.
Gently reminding youth to use the list whenever steps are missed is helpful in reinforcing the technique. Remind him or her that they participated in making the list and where it is placed, so if they need to move the list or do something to make it easier to follow, you’ll help them with that until their routine is developed. Remember, this will be a new strategy at first, so try not to get frustrated if you have to give gentle reminders about using the list.
Mornings and evenings are often particularly frustrating with disorganization. Creating these specific routines for getting ready and out the door and for pre-organizing in the evening for the next day can be both tricky at first and very rewarding once a positive habit is formed. To help, make sure that your youth performs tasks in a specific order each day. In the evening, have them put their completed homework in the right place in a folder in their backpack. Next, have them pack their lunch and prepare for their breakfast. Then, have them pick out and lay out their clothes for tomorrow. This preparation will save considerable time in the morning and will reinforce order and developing a helpful routine.
Bedtime can be challenging as youth with ADHD can have trouble falling asleep for myriad reasons. A regular bedtime routine with a set schedule will help, making sure that all steps in the routine are done at the same time every night.
Begin with brushing teeth and taking a shower or bath, dim lights and make sure the room is cool, quiet and darkened. Then, if the youth is young, maybe ready a pleasant bedtime story or if older, encourage the youth to read a book or listen to calm music set to turn off in 20 minutes, etc. Use any calming activity that will help your youth relax. Completing this routine at the same time every day, even on weekends and holidays, will help them sleep.
Homework for kids with ADHD can be excruciating, often involving constant redirection on focus and completing tasks. Checking work and redirecting again to complete assignments thoroughly and follow directions, etc. Developing a routine for completing homework can be beneficial. First, designate a spot where your youth will complete homework, daily-a bedroom, quiet living room, desk in a study, library, classroom, etc. Any place that is neat, organized and free of distractions such as televisions, excess clutter, loud chatter, etc. with a table and chair is a good environment. Make sure he or she checks that all of the supplies needed to complete homework are available: pens, pencils, books, calculator, etc. reducing the need to get up and go look for something.
Also, setting a timer for short segments while doing homework can help reinforce focus for students. For example, 20-30 minute increments should be sufficient for older students while younger students may benefit from 15-10 minute increments. Allow for short breaks between segments.
When homework is complete, have youth put the homework in a folder and book away in their backpack immediately after each subject is final. This prevents clutter and reduces potential problems with anxiety and feeling overwhelmed while promoting feelings of accomplishment and keeping assignments, neat and orderly.