Managing homework on a game board

A few years ago, I read that people with ADHD perceived time in two states: “Now” and “Not Now.”

Overly simplistic? Probably, though it still resonated with me. As someone who lived four decades before he was diagnosed with the disorder, this succinctly described a level that goes beyond simple procrastination.

It was no surprise to me when remote learning hit our house in March and our oldest viewed due dates as the day he needed to start working on the assignment. I had to get creative to change that viewpoint.

I can’t speak to other schools or school districts. I can only say my son’s teachers, on the whole, stuck to a clear an consistent schedule. That consistency would serve my son, diagnosed ASD, very well.

By the end of the year, we had refined a system that would allow him to take ownership of his workload and his schedule, and come away with his best report card yet.

Our system had two main steps: assess the workload and balance it over the course of the upcoming week. I’m not going to belabor every iteration of our plan. Once we started approaching it as if it were a tabletop or video game, however, he was able to properly gauge and organize his work.

Assessing the workload

Every Monday morning, I printed out two pieces of paper: One that would become the “game piece list,” and one the “game board.”

My son and I would go through Google Classroom, hour by hour, and review the week’s assignment, and determine how big of a task it was. We eventually arrived on four types of assignments:

  • Mobs were daily assignments or tasks. Watch a video. Math assignments. Fill out a quick survey or informal quiz, etc.
  • Minibosses were assignments that were supposed to take the whole week, usually due that Friday. A weekly lesson in Social Studies. A science test.
  • Bosses were tests or big projects. They, by nature, weren’t due every week.
  • Hidden or Secret bosses were assignments or projects that we knew or even thought would come, but we had no details about them.

As we reviewed each assignment, we checked the teacher’s summary of the minibosses, hidden bosses, and bosses to see if they could be divided into smaller items, and we would add those items to the “piece list” to be placed on the board. Due dates (designated by the teacher) were added to the list.

The pieces list from his penultimate week at school.

Balancing the school week

Now that we had a list of all of our pieces, it was time to put them on the board. It sounds fancier than it was.

I made what was essentially a 5×8 grid in Google Sheets. Five columns for the days, eight rows for the individual hours. Each space had a spot at the top to write down the official due date. We’d work our way from bosses to mobs, and write each piece in its appropriate due-date space.

Next, we would layout the workload, starting with bosses. We determined which days he needed to work on them, always allowing for the possibility his teach may send the assignment back with a comment, question, or further direction.

We would move on to minibosses, hidden bosses, and then mobs. The grid allowed him to see if he was overloading a particular day. I would put the rest of his schedule, including regularly scheduled class Zoom meeting, ABA appointments, and other things that filled up his day.

This was one of the last weeks of the school year, when most of the major assignments and projects had been completed.

As he started to realize the relief of not constantly racing against deadlines, the unofficial rule of the “game” was to move as many pieces “to the left” as possible each week. In other words, if he finished his assignments ahead of schedule, he would look for mobs scheduled for later in the week and tackle them early.

At first, the Monday morning sessions were fairly long (sometimes over an hour), and I had to write them down. By the end of the year, they were much shorter; he was making most of the decisions and writing everything down. By June, I merely asked a neutrally-worded clarifying question or two.

My plans for this year are to drop the game terminology after a few weeks and simply refer to the concepts mobs and bosses symbolized.