Ask the Dyslexia Lady: ‘Homework takes hours – could it be dyslexia?’
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Ask the Dyslexia Lady: ‘Homework takes hours – could it be dyslexia?’

“My son, who’s in primary school, seems really bright and can produce excellent work when I stand over him. However, this homework takes hours.

“Sometimes, it can take him half an hour to write anything. If he has lots of assignments to do, homework eats up the whole weekend!

“It doesn’t take any of my other kids this long – is he just lazy? Or could it be another issue, like dyslexia?”

–Harried By Homework

Dear Harried By Homework,

My sympathies. You’re certainly not alone. Every week, I talk to parents whose lives are ruled (and often ruined) by homework. The good news is: it has to stop. In fact, it needs to stop.

Specifically, you need to stop helping your son. This doesn’t mean you should stop supporting him (parental support is invaluable!), but I fear you’re giving your son’s teacher the wrong impression about his abilities.

Teachers are not sadists – they’re not setting homework that’s supposed to take the whole weekend. (If they are, then it is likely to be a misunderstanding.) Therefore, it seems that there may be an underlying reason for your son’s struggles.

dyslexia and homeworkThe problem could well be dyslexia (use my 5-minute dyslexia checklist for a quick answer) and, indeed, ‘homework takes hours’ is often a hallmark of the undiagnosed dyslexic. Whatever the problem, you’re not doing your son any favours by masking his struggles, giving excessive amounts of help with homework, or even (yes, I see your guilty look…) doing it for him.

If you help your child too much with homework, this gesture of love often ends up backfiring. His ‘excellent’ homework will look completely different to his much-less-polished classwork. The teacher might just think he’s being lazy or getting distracted in lessons – not that he needs support.

So talk to your son’s teacher (and perhaps the school’s SENCo, too) and start letting him hand in homework that’s a true reflection of his current level of learning. No, the work might not be as brilliant as his ideas (a gap between intelligence and quality of schoolwork can be a key sign of dyslexia), but the teacher will now understand the weak areas where he needs help.

Avoid ‘learned helplessness’ and endless procrastination

Two things to try to avoid are ‘learned helplessness’ and endless procrastination. Learned helplessness can occur when a child no longer believes that he can work without an adult helping him and feels too inadequate to even try. Good homework is a recap of what has been learned and he should be able to complete it alone. If your child really can’t do the homework, it is still important that he completes it in some way or other, so the teacher can see his effort, what his couldn’t do and how to help.

What’s more, teachers won’t expect a dyslexic or struggling student to get to the end of every piece of homework. Once you explain the situation, most teachers fully accept a parent writing a comment like: ‘Tom worked hard for the agreed twenty minutes, but only got as far as question 8 – he found question 5 particularly hard.’

Make sure your child is getting the help he needs in school – and reclaim your weekends!

Good luck!
The Dyslexia Lady

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One Response

  1. […] worth working on over and over again (see: ‘missing pieces’, below), but other things may be better left in her homework bag, with a note telling the teacher that it was too hard for her current level of […]

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