Parents of kids diagnosed with ADHD observe how readily they are attracted to screen-based technologies. Almost every parent of a child with ADHD can attest to the lack of attention issues they observe when their child is playing video games or involved in other screen-based activities. It can be difficult to get them to shift their focus away from a screen without either shutting off the electronics or standing between their face and the screen. However, with online homeschooling the norm during the COVID-19 quarantine, many parents of kids with ADHD report difficulty with keeping their kids’ attention to screen-based learning. This raises questions as to whether teaching kids with ADHD through online schooling is helpful.
Children with ADHD frequently have difficulty attending to activities that do not inherently interest them. Thought leaders on the topic of ADHD often refer to it as a disorder of “intention” rather than attention, suggesting that brain mechanisms and neurobiology underlie the capacity to maintain effort and interest in certain tasks. The characteristics of engaging video games such as multimodality, ever-changing screens, and clear and immediate feedback tend to make them “intentional” for most kids with ADHD. Even though many of the learning materials that are available for children during the quarantine are presented online, they do not require the physical and cognitive involvement that characterize popular video games and apps. As a result, some kids with ADHD are having more difficulty attending to online schooling than they do in the traditional classroom.
Without additional support from parents or aides, classroom teachers will not have access to the modifications and instructional strategies used in the classroom. Movement breaks typically given in the classroom are harder to return from with at-home schooling, and it is also more difficult for teachers to give individualized instruction to a child online. Even if they are able to use the technical capabilities of video conferencing to have a one-on-one conversation, they can lose track of what everyone else in the classroom is doing.
Interestingly, it may not be the screen-based nature of instruction that is causing difficulty for kids with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Previous research using what we would now call primitive applications such as “Math Blaster” indicates that kids with ADHD often perform better on computer-assisted learning than in the traditional classroom. Parents routinely observe kids with learning issues spending more time and effort on simple math and reading phone apps than they do on their homework. I suspect that a combination of the lack of individualized attention, length of instruction, and nature of the online learning materials may not be well suited to the needs of many kids with ADHD. It may well be more important to teach kids with ADHD how they can learn best from remote learning prior to presenting academic demands – essentially to teach basic executive-functioning skills.
Unfortunately, many SEL and executive-functioning training programs are designed for traditional classroom use. Our newest program, LW4K LIVE, however, is a small group, video-game based, online executive-functioning training program available through Outschool.com. We use games such as Minecraft, Fortnite, and a variety of shorter games to teach children executive-functioning skills. LearningWorks for Kids gamer guide instructors engage small groups of children in projects that require the use of specific executive functions and social-emotional learning skills. The goal is to make game-based learning into real-world skills through the use of strategic teaching and generalization strategies..
The online classes your child with ADHD is attending are not traditional in the common use of the word but use many traditional classroom concepts. They are not ideal for most kids with ADHD, but the best we have to deal with during the quarantine. In addition to proactive executive-functioning training through LW4K LIVE, here are a few simple methods to enhance these classes for your child with ADHD:
Regular parental involvement. Just as many kids with ADHD require parents to guide them through homework, they need the same for online instruction. Parents need to be present, monitoring children in their work and helping them to return to work after breaks.
Use peer guides. Older siblings or high performing classroom peers who work jointly with alternative learners can be helpful in this role. Pairing a child with attention issues with a peer who is very focused can improve learning dramatically and provide needed peer interaction during the quarantine.
Encourage short spurts of work. Find good breaks between classes, preferably involving exercise, going outside, eating a healthy snack, or helping around the house.