Ask the Experts

Q: Can My Teen Manage an Online, Alternative High School?

Alternative high school courses — delivered largely online and on demand — are a good option for some students with ADHD, but only if they can structure their time, information, and support resources. Here’s how.

Q: “Hi there. Our daughter is 17 years old and has decided not to return to school for her final year. Instead, she will attend a year-long polytechnic course called ‘Introduction to Paramedicine,’ which is completed largely online with only face-to-face teaching four times a year. Bella’s ADHD means she struggles to set and keep to study structures. It is important that she succeeds this year; if she doesn’t, I’m afraid it will injure her confidence for going out into the world. Any advice would be very welcome.” — NZParent


Hi NZParent: 

I have to say that this question really hit home. I spend my days coaching college students with ADHD, and planning and implementing study structures or plans is something we work on almost daily. Here are a few strategies to try:

Try Body Doubling for ADHD Focus

A “body double” functions as an anchor. The presence of another individual – either in person or virtually – focuses a person and makes it possible to sit down, focus, and get work done.

Does your daughter know anyone else taking the class? If not, is it possible for the school (with permission) to release names and emails? Sometimes students taking the same class will form a Facebook group to discuss assignments and tests. Perhaps your daughter can reach out to someone who might also be in need of a “study buddy” so they can support each other to stay anchored, focused, and on task.

Schedule “Class Time” to Combat Procrastination

Have your daughter pick a time slot – the same time each day – where she will have a few uninterrupted hours to work. This step is critical for success. If she doesn’t plan the time, her likelihood of doing the work is slim. Have her think of it this way: If she had to be physically present for class, she would set her alarm and get herself out the door to make sure she showed up on time. An online class needs to be treated with the same importance. So making these non-negotiable appointments is critical to her study plan success.

[Get This Download: 19 Ways to Meet Deadlines and Get Things Done]

Write It Down to Trigger Memory

Whether she uses a paper planner or an online calendar, she needs to write down her plan the same way she would a doctor’s appointment or office hours with her professor. If she gives her study time the same importance as her other appointments, she is more likely to honor it in the same way.

Create a Motivating Work Environment

Environment plays a HUGE role in how we get things done. So have your daughter set up her homework area so it entices her to use it! Do fun pens or pretty notepads get her going? Does she like to surround herself with colorful objects to make her feel energized? Does she have a favorite food to nibble while she works? Or does she need her favorite playlist to get into gear? Always relying on our own internal motivation is exhausting! So, have her use a motivating work environment instead.

Wishing her a wonderful semester!

And, if you want more ideas for great study habits, please visit our website at orderoochaos.com.

[Read This Next: High School Is Different. Your Study Strategies Should Be Too.]


ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!

Updated on August 7, 2020

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