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Homework Challenges and the New School Year

Written by Marcie Lipsitt | March 6, 2013

It is fair to say I am not Pollyanna. Too often I am referred to as a pit bull across Michigan for my work as a parent advocate. Still, I can’t believe the 2010-11 school year is underway and have to ask, “Where did the summer go?

It is fair to say I am not Pollyanna. Too often I am referred to as a pit bull across Michigan for my work as a parent advocate. Still, I can’t believe the 2010-11 school year is underway and have to ask, “Where did the summer go?

But here yet again we find ourselves.

It was the Labor Day holiday weekend that our largest newspaper the Detroit Free Press ran the typical “Get your homework done,” back-to-classroom article. “Strategies to make schoolwork less of a chore, more rewarding”…so the story goes.

Their suggestions: “Make it routine; Create a fun space; Make it a priority; Do what works best; Check with the teacher…” ya da, ya da…. “…homework shouldn’t feel like a prison.”

The article pictured one of my dearest friends with two of her four children; a neurotypical 10-year-old and a 14-year-old with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Yet the story did not recognize that for students with disabilities, going back to school can be far more than just a routine. Homework can indeed feel like a prison. How many of us have sat with our teary-eyed or even raging children as they struggled to plan, prioritize, organize and complete; reading, writing and math assignments that had not been “chunked, reduced, re-formatted or given extended time?

Toward the end of the first week of school my friend’s 10-year-old was worried about some pencils that had been taken from his desk. He said to his mom, “It’s a tough world out there.” Now that was something I could run with! So I responded, “Your son is worried about having his pencils stolen; my son Andrew and the millions of children with learning disabilities sit in their classrooms, and panic about losing, misplacing or forgetting where they put them!

So to you parents with children that have LDs, AD/HD, NVLD, executive functioning deficits, and any special needs that make learning difficult; I offer the following EARLY back to school advice, and Andrew will tell you that I continue to practice what I preach.

  • Homework should at all times bring meaningful educational benefit and at his/her instructional level.
  • Homework must align with the “supplementary aids” in your child’s IEP or Section 504 Plan.
  • If your child has executive functioning or attentional deficits, homework may need to be reduced; and simply because his/her brain may be done for the day after working ten times harder than his/her neurotypical peers in school.
  • If your child appears oppositional, unmotivated, lazy, spacey and/or disorganized… or appears frustrated, anxious, irritable and depressed over homework, please request a “review of all existing evaluations and data” and request a neuropsychological evaluation to assess all areas of cognitive functioning.
  • For the 2010-11 school year make a promise to yourself and your child that you will learn about “assistive technology.” Visit www.franklin.com (electronic spelling devices); www.inspiration.com(software to facilitate skills in written expression); www.sunburst.com (information on dictation software); www.rfbd.org (recorded textbooks); www.kurzweiledu.com (scan material for computer reading); www.bookshare.org (books in audio format); and www.donjohnston.com (word prediction, text reader, graphic organizing and talking word processor).
  • And my son Andrew asked that I include his “2 cents” and urge parents to research the new iPad from www.apple.com and bring the information to your child’s IEP meetings for consideration as a “supplementary aid.” This is truly an amazing piece of assistive technology!!

First and foremost, if your child tells you that homework feels like a prison. Tell him/her like I have told my Andrew for the past 16 years, do your personal best and we’ll bust out of the cell together!


Marcie Lipsitt lives in Michigan with her husband, son and three dogs. She is an advocate for children’s civil rights to a meaningful public education.

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