Jonathan Walton, musician and tutor of modern languages and mathematics, shares his thoughts and tips for assisting an ADHD student with sequential planning:
ADHD is, by any accounts, a frustrating condition for many parents and children alike. Having spent the last few months working intensively with an adult learner with diagnosed ADHD, I would like to share some thoughts about what I have observed – and as a parent myself, some suggestions as to how, as a parent, you can best support your child.
One of the key difficulties is abstract sequential planning. Put simply, this means that the everyday task of breaking down a large item into smaller ones can be almost impossible to visualise.
For example, if you have to be somewhere at nine o’clock, and it takes half an hour to get there and half an hour to get ready in the morning, we’d know we have to leave the house at eight thirty, which means setting the alarm for eight o’clock at the latest.
For people with ADHD, this pattern of looking into the future at an abstract point and working backwards in logical steps can be a serious challenge. As a result, they can often be late to appointments or miss them altogether, with the result that parents start to accuse them of being unreliable or lazy. It is a similar story for children who keep losing their clothes at school: most kids know that if they don’t put their bag on the hook outside the classroom, they won’t be able to find it when they need it. This simple logical sequence – “If I don’t… then I won’t be able to…” – does not always follow, and they cannot visualise the second event as a logical consequence of the first.
This is not to say that people with ADHD are poor at logic – they can excel at robotics or mathematics, when the logical steps to be followed are clearly derived one from another, and the results at each stage are plain to see. It is the abstract nature of the steps themselves that are the problem.
As time management and scheduling presents such a challenge, there are things you can do to help. If your child has an issue with getting out of bed in the morning or making it on time to appointments, be careful not to mistake it as a behavioural issue or a question of disrespect– “How can I rely on you to …?” Instead, try downloading the Google Calendar application on your phone and create a shared calendar. Every time you talk to your child about an appointment or an event, physically set a calendar reminder on the shared calendar, with notifications to remind them half an hour, an hour or a day in advance. You can also access an option on the Settings menu of the shared calendar on the calendar.google.com website, where you can ask for a daily schedule to be sent to their email address each morning.
Creating a reminder for every appointment might add a little bit of overhead to your day, but it helps your child be reminded of what they need to do when. By allowing the phone to nag your child instead of you, it means that your relationship can focus more on the good stuff that can get easily get overwhelmed by stress of managing someone else’s condition.
Pretend they’re a robot
Another idea which could also work for younger children is to pretend that they are a robot. Robots need to be programmed strictly in a series of “if this then that” logical steps. So if you wanted a robot to be a brilliant footballer, you can ask questions like: How big should the robot be? How fast should the robot be? What shape should it have? How will it know the rules? How will it not fall over? This can set up a series of logical requirements that all lead towards a clear outcome – a champion footballer robot. If the robot doesn’t fulfil the above conditions, then it won’t be able to score lots of goals. In this way, children can see how a smaller task like doing homework can lead to a much bigger, more exciting goal, like being an astronaut.
Finally, visual aids up on the wall can help everyone. This can be in the form of Post It note reminders on a bedroom or on the fridge – wherever they are guaranteed to see it every day – or even better, pictures that show a sequence of daily actions (eg 1. Get Up 0700 2. Get Dressed 0710 /3. Have Breakfast 0730 / 4. Brush Your Teeth 0745 / 5. Pack Your Bag With Your Homework and Lunch 0800 / 6. Leave The House 0815). Lateness can cause high levels of anxiety all round, so if time is an issue, a big James Bond countdown style digital alarm can make it easier for them to check regularly if they are on time, saving you from having to be the time police.
Jonathan is a maths, English and modern languages tutor, trained in music therapy. He has worked with a wide range of students including those with ADHD.