Ask the Experts

ADHD-Friendly Schedule Fixes for Working Parents

“Help! I know children with ADHD need consistent schedules, but what can working parents or parents with inconsistent schedules do to help their kids?”

Being consistent with schedules, instructions, and discipline as parents to children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is hard enough for parents who work regular hours, so I understand your dilemma, but hopefully my experiences as an adult with ADHD and as a special education teacher and ADHD coach will help.

Just because your schedule is inconsistent doesn’t mean the basic structure that children with ADHD need on a daily basis has to be. If you can incorporate the following routine-builders — even at varying hours of the day or with help from a partner or another adult caregiver — your child will benefit.

Because children sometimes have the comorbid condition of sensory processing disorder, I recommend that you set up a scheduling system based on visual and tactile input. If you have children without ADHD, they will benefit as well. Putting everyone on the same system creates a smoothly running household, and your child with ADHD will be more likely to participate if he doesn’t feel singled out.

The scheduling system can be tailored to the age and needs of each child. To be effective, it needs to be simple so that you can actually maintain the schedule along with other aspects of your hectic home life.

How to create a visual, tactile system to structure your child’s daily schedule.

  • Decide on the activities you would like your child to do on a daily basis. Start with getting up in the morning and end with bedtime. Be sure to break down each task.

[Free Resource: Routines for Morning and Night]

  • Adjust activities to the age of your child. Remember, even if your child is older, children with ADHD are usually three years behind in maturity in scattered areas when compared to their peers.
  • Take photos or find pictures online to represent what your child needs to do. Find a photo of a bed for when your child should make his or use a drawing of a toothbrush to remind your child to brush his teeth. You can also incorporate after-school activities like homework, snacks, and chores.
  • Include your child in the process of gathering pictures to increase compliance, personal ownership, and long-term success.
  • Cut pictures to the same size and laminate.
  • Laminate a piece of poster board.
  • Place a long piece of Velcro on the left side of the poster board and another on the right side.
  • Place Velcro on the back of the pictures so they will stick to the Velcro on the poster board.
  • Place pictures in order of your child’s schedule.
  • As each activity is completed, have your child move the picture from the left side to the right side.
  • Add pictures of places you go and the people you visit to use with your schedule.
  • Put the schedule somewhere your child will see it every morning and have easy access to it. This could be in her bedroom or on the refrigerator in the kitchen.

A consistent, structured method will allow your child to better learn how to manage time, how to pre-plan, and how to transition, which are often the root causes of behavior problems. This system develops independence, creates less stress, and improves self-esteem. Instead of repeating yourself over and over, you can simply say, “Check your schedule.” When your child is ready, you can add time breakdowns to the schedule.

Once your child has mastered the system, you can also add a behavior-management component. This can be accomplished by setting up a reward system based on completing tasks each day. Some examples of rewards or privileges your child may earn through good behavior are time to watch TV, surf the Internet, and listen to their favorite music. For example, if he completes all activities, he gets all privileges. If you have 10 activities on the schedule and he only completes between six and nine of them, he will receive fewer privileges.

You can also change the rewards and privileges that can be earned each day, which will offer different unpredictable opportunities for your child to work on completing tasks on his best behavior.

[How to Teach Sequence and Schedules]

Updated on January 9, 2020

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  1. In this context I would like to share that we recently found the “Goally” device very helpful. Before we used a timer for certain tasks to help her get ready in time, we also had a chart with pictures for her morning routine where she could move down a pin for every task completed (like got dressed, had breakfast, brushed teeth etc.) and we had a separate list for reward points she got for certain things (like not yelling and others.) Now we don´t need these anymore since the Goally combines all three of these into one. On my parent app or the desktop I can customize the routines for the morning, after school and bedtime and set the timing and reward points to be earned upon completion. I can also set the rewards and my daughter can see on her device when she has enough points to redeem, or how many points are still missing. I love not having to remind her over and over again what to do next. And I am surprised that she actually started to save her points for some bigger rewards – something she was never able to be patient enough before. It is helping her to stay on task in time – and she loves it and is much more motivated! So for us this made life with an ADHD child much easier.

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