Tutoring Kids With ADHD: Kindness, Empathy and Bulletproof Structure
In terms of non-medical treatments, parents often don’t know where to turn when their children have been handed an ADHD diagnosis. There are plenty of brain-rewiring programs, psychologists and counselors, natural remedies, nutritional programs, and 504 plans. But many parents want someone to come the their home, help their child with their schoolwork, and be a good role model–and that’s where tutoring comes in. But tutoring kids with ADHD is vastly different from standard tutoring. Here, I’m going to tell you what an ADHD tutor does, and what separates the good from the bad.
Also sometimes called an ADHD coach or a homework coach, an ADHD tutor can have a huge impact on a student’s life. One 2013 study of 148 college students found that after eight weeks of ADHD coaching classes, students enjoyed significant improvements in learning, self-esteem, and school and work satisfaction. Another study found improved executive function in terms of goals attainment skills, well-being, and self-regulation. As the youth speaker Josh Shipp puts it, “every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.”
But what makes ADHD tutoring different?
An ADHD tutor does not work as much on specific assignments and courses the way a typical academic tutor does. Instead, the tutor will take a holistic approach to all of the student’s schoolwork, helping him work out a schedule that works and maintain a good daily workflow. They will set goals together and talk about ways he tends to get tripped up–for example, procrastinating because an assignment seems more daunting than it really is.
A huge difference in teaching style is that ADHD tutors need to be more affirming, positive, nurturing, and patient than regular tutors. This is because ADHD students tend to have lower self esteem, and have often internalized the message that there is something wrong with their character. On the other hand, ADHD tutors should also be organized, dependable, and firm, able to resist their students’ tendency to talk about something other than the work at hand.
Tutoring Kids With ADHD Takes Patience and Positivity
Because kids with ADHD tend to be more discouraged and have lower self-esteem, they need to know that their tutor believes in them. This goes way beyond the normal call of duty, as far as tutoring is concerned. If you need to get ready for the SAT or pass chemistry, you need an expert in one of those areas. An ADHD tutor, on the other hand, needs to be gifted in the area of motivation. This starts with the tutor’s demeanor; there should be a lot of positive reinforcement, but not in a patronizing way. Rather, kids need to hear simple things like, “That’s neat how you came up with that,” or, “You know, you have a knack for writing.”
ADHD kids often don’t get around to the work they said they would do. They can be frazzled and overwhelmed. A good tutor will respond to these setbacks without judgment or criticism. Instead of saying, “I thought you were going to do this before our next session,” they may say, “Ok, let’s put together next week’s homework schedule a little more carefully and perhaps you can send me a text when you’ve completed each step.”
From Focus to Follow-Through, Executive Functions can be Taught
ADHD students are sometimes characterized as “lazy,” “disorganized,” “unmotivated,” or “impulsive.” But these are not character traits, they are signs of deficient or immature executive function skills. A good ADHD tutor would never think of their student as lazy or unmotivated, they would rather note the underlying executive function challenges, such as the student has trouble getting started on homework, has a hard time switching from one task to another, or gets sidetracked easily.
Behind these behaviors is always a “why.” The student may procrastinate starting on her research project because she hasn’t broken it down into little bite-size chunks yet, can’t remember where she put the outline instructions, or feels overwhelmed because she’s never put together a bibliography. The tutor and student can talk through all of this and write down the steps that need to be taken, then put together a task list.
We aren’t born knowing how to eat with a fork, and we certainly aren’t born with the ability to write a good task list. The same goes for to-do lists, weekly calendars, agendas, and so on. An ADHD tutor doesn’t just assume that the student already knows how to organize his life on paper like this. That’s why so much of tutoring kids with ADHD is about setting goals, writing things down, and using practical tools.
The same goes for another problem with ADHD kids: time blindness. With ADHD, an hour can feel like five hours, or it can feel like five minutes, depending on how distracted or hyperfocused he is. ADHD tutors work on time management by helping the student project ahead of time how the rest of his day and week will look. She may have him estimate how long a set of problems will take, and then time him on it. People with ADHD often push off doing important things because they wildly overestimate how long it will take. On the other hand, they wait until the 11th hour to start on things because they figure it won’t take long. With practice, ADHD kids get a better grip on how their time and workload fits together.
Non-Judgmental Teaching Yields the Way
I have always wanted to hire a home organizer. My closets are all full of clothing, knick knacks, and keepsakes that I don’t want to throw out, but also don’t know where to put. What keeps me from hiring someone, aside from my budget, is the fear of being judged. I think this is how ADHD kids feel. Any time they have been approached by an adult regarding their cluttered book bags or terribly maintained agenda, it has been with an attitude of, “What’s wrong with you?”
And that attitude is almost always met with defensiveness. When you get defensive, you can’t hear what another person is saying. You are too overwhelmed with the feeling that you need to protect yourself to even hear what the other person is saying. A good ADHD tutor knows how to say, “Let’s organize your papers together,” and guide the child to a filing system that works for them. The tutor never imposes a solution on the student; together, they develop the tools that help the student feel more organized and on top of school work. This is why our company calls our tutors “homework coaches” — the coach observes and guides the child to be the best they can. Slowly, that sense of order being unattainable goes away. It’s amazing how enthusiastic, even zealous, an ADHD kid can get about order once they start to feel empowered.
If you are looking for an ADHD tutor, please consider HomeworkCoach. We have put hundreds of hours of research into tutoring kids with ADHD. We work with students everyday who are facing these struggles. We recruit, train, and certify tutors all over the country. Follow these links to learn more about our tutoring program and ADHD tutors.