When you are young and extremely sensitive, school is your life, teachers are omnipotent, and homework is everything. Many children with Asperger's Syndrome generate undue stress for themselves by agonizing over homework to the point that they cannot be calm and rest because they feel so overwhelmed. Some may wail, cry, or hyperventilate because they believe homework to be a life-or-death situation. Parents and teachers may affirm that they know the child is capable of the work; however, this is not about incapability. The child with Asperger's Syndrome can be overcome with stress and anxiety by a litany of tasks that seem insurmountable. Being simultaneously confronted with homework, impending tests, and assignment due dates may fuel such a tremendous sense of frustration and futility that the child may be totally unable to discern where even to begin.
Problems with Homework
If your child becomes upset and overwhelmed when confronted with multiple homework assignments, he will require your support to break down the tasks (organized visually on a timetable that becomes the child's property) so that the assignments are scheduled in manageable portions. Reinforce that the child need focus only on the work scheduled for the allotted time slot. Your child's teacher will be an invaluable resource in helping to “map out” such a timetable into realistically doable bits.
Peers may stigmatize your child if they perceive him as the “teacher's pet” or having special privileges, or if he is acknowledged as “different” and unable to complete homework assignments. It's important to be discreet in cases where a child's homework assignment is modified in some way from the rest of the class's.
A child's confusion and misunderstanding of directions can lead teachers inaccurately to label that child for his “behaviors.” Their observations may focus upon some children's inability to complete homework. The refusal to complete a homework assignment in full may stem from the child feeling personally offended by what is being asked of him. If your child has demonstrated that he can master a concept, he may become offended when asked to demonstrate that capability by essentially “regurgitating” the same concept in various ways (via the homework). A compromise may be to allow the child to do fewer homework problems.
If the homework is going to be publicly reviewed aloud in class, parents and teachers will need to be more creative in conveying why completing the entire assignment is necessary. Or teachers could arrange to stagger the order of the assigned homework problems, with both student and teacher being aware of which problems he is most likely to be called upon to report.
Perfectionism and Anxiety
Some children operate in a “perfection mode” because they are “pleasers.” They may relate better to adults with more advanced skills or they torture themselves trying to duplicate computer-generated examples in textbooks, like perfect handwriting, for example. Trying to be as perfect as adults appear to be only magnifies the self-imposed pressure to comply with exacting accuracy. Tension and anxiety can balloon out of control for the child who must erase his work over and over again because it doesn't “match” the textbook or teacher's example.
If your child does this, he needs you to express, in writing and pictures, an understanding that everyone messes up and does things wrong every day. It may come as a groundbreaking revelation for your child to learn that his parents, teachers, relatives, doctors, and others don't do everything exactly right all the time. This is not giving him permission not to strive to do his best; it's a discussion about flexibility within rules and permission for him to go easy on himself. Your child will likely be absolutely tickled to hear your own stories about the times you messed up in school and lived to tell about it!
With patient support and practice, these homework strategies should help your child relax and focus.