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Hybrid Learning Is (Still) Disorienting. How to Help Ground a Student with ADHD.

“We are seeing attention waver and interest plummet — especially in already-missed lesson content, which makes it difficult to complete assignments, homework, and tests. This, in turn, creates a greater number of missed assignments, decreased motivation, and lower grades — all resulting in a vicious cycle of anxiety, stress, and even school refusal that is difficult to resolve.”

A student remote learning at home

The 2020-2021 school year began on Zoom and Google Classroom for most U.S. students. Then it eased into (and out of) hybrid for many. And now re-entry plans are underway nationwide, with snags and virtual days aplenty.

As parents, we are drained and overwhelmed by the constant change — not to mention our kids’ struggles keeping up with assignments, tests, and projects. We see the low level of motivation, the high level of distractibility, and the increased demands on remote learners who are expected to monitor their assignments and lessons via multiple portals while simultaneously remembering to upload assignments and to actually click “Turn In Assignment.” For children with executive function challenges, these extra steps and the independent organization required to execute them regularly are messy — if not untenable.

We are seeing attention waver and interest plummet — especially in already-missed lesson content, which makes it difficult to complete assignments, homework, and tests. This, in turn, creates a greater number of missed assignments, decreased motivation to log in to class or go to school, and lower grades — all resulting in a vicious cycle of anxiety, stress, and even school refusal that is difficult to resolve.

Here are a few strategies that I recommend, as an executive functioning coach and psychologist, to help our children build the skills they need to get through the rest of this weird school year — with or without hybrid learning:

1. One Place for All

Our children are logging in to various electronic portals for assignments, and now perhaps getting some work in person and other work online. A child may need to check his email for one teacher’s assignment, then log in to Google Classroom to find a separate reading, and then visit another platform, like Flip Grid, to complete and hand in something else. The number of places to find, complete, and hand in assignments is maddening and unrealistic for our children, and especially those with ADHD.

[Read: The Most Useful ADHD Accommodations and Modifications for Distance Learning]

I encourage students to maintain all assignments in one place. For example, as your child is logging in to each of these portals/electronic spaces, and finding disparate assignments in each, they should record it in one central place, such as:

  • A whiteboard on the wall or an easel
  • A 3-ring notebook with one page designated for one day or for two days where the next day’s assignments can be written
  • Post-It notes that can be posted on the wall by color and class. For example, all science assignments are written on a green Post-It and all green Post-It notes are together on the wall
  • A Google Doc with assignments typed in by subject

Whatever the method, aim for one spot and one spot only where all assignments can be recorded. This will improve your child’s awareness and ability to plan — a vital executive function.

2. Start with the Worst

Many of my students share with me that they worry about a particular assignment for a particular class because they know it’s going to require a high level of mental effort and time. As a result, they procrastinate or they don’t get to it at all. That said, I recommend that my students start with the assignment that is causing the most mental distress, which is also the assignment that appears the most difficult. Once that assignment is completed, it will free up your child’s mental energy so that less difficult or demanding assignments can be completed with greater ease.

[Read: Adjusting Your Child’s IEP or 504 Plan for Distance Learning]

3. Move Around

Virtual learning has become, for many students, monotonous and boring. Our children are sitting in the same space all day with little movement or variation in their environment. This does not work for students with ADHD, whom I encourage to move around their home — from the desk to the floor or from the dining room to the kitchen, for example — for different parts of the day or for different classes. This helps your child renew their energy and motivation while allowing for an element of choice during a time when it feels like there are very few choices.

4. Reward Yourself

Completing schoolwork can be incredibly boring, and our kids become distracted by thoughts or things in their environment in an effort to gain a mental break. I encourage students to work for small spurts of time (i.e., a duration during which they feel they can maintain attention, such as 30 minutes) and then to set a timer for 15-20 minutes — a time to do something rewarding and enjoyable. Using this strategy, our children get down time incorporated into their day rather than trying to delay gratification to the end of the night. And sometimes, that doesn’t end up happening because of the long periods of time that they attempt to complete work unsuccessfully.

5. Shut Down Tabs

Often, a child with ADHD will keep multiple tabs open and attempt to multi-task while they complete their school assignments. Shut down the Netflix, Amazon, Instagram, or YouTube tabs – they are too tempting. The back-and-forth shift in attention often means it takes longer to complete assignments, which results in feelings of frustration and discouragement. Encourage your child to shut down the tabs and keep only the ones needed for the assignment that is being conquered in that very moment. If he opens a tab to work on an assignment, your child should close it upon completion to avoid future distraction and to feel a sense of accomplishment.

6. Body Double

The most difficult task for many of our kids is initiating or starting a task or assignment. I have seen this with students in middle school, high school, and college. They have the intent and the motivation to start a task and are eager to finish it; however, they just can’t seem to get started. If possible, it may be helpful to agree that, when your child is having a hard time getting started, she can call you over to help her get started. Once your child gets started, the flow often begins and continues, but getting the wheels moving can be the hardest part.

The multiple demands of being a student are hard enough for our kids with ADHD. Adding a virtual component to the learning process takes a difficult situation and makes it seem impossible. Implementing a few of these strategies might be just what your child needs to get assignments done and feel successful — no matter where or how they are learning right now.

Hybrid Learning with ADHD: Next Steps


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Updated on May 10, 2021

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