How to teach effective time management to neurodivergent kids?
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán
Neurodivergent children often experience a host of challenges that their neurotypical peers do not. These challenges can take a significant toll on children’s social and emotional well-being as well as their academic performance.
Time management is a skill that is often particularly challenging for neurodivergent kids, which only further jeopardizes their chance to succeed in school. Fortunately, there are techniques parents and educators alike can use to help children who are neurodiverse develop the time management skills they need to thrive in the classroom.
The Pomodoro technique
Children who are neurodiverse may experience significant difficulty with concentration and procrastination. Those who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), for example, often delay the completion of tasks in which they are not interested while fixating on those they enjoy.
This can lead to rushed, careless, or incomplete school assignments that don’t reflect the child’s true academic abilities.
The Pomodoro technique, however, can be highly effective for neurodiverse children for whom procrastination and lack of focus are issues. In the Pomodoro technique, students will study in 25-minute intervals, focusing on a single task for this brief period, which is followed by a five-minute break.
After students have completed four Pomodoro segments, they can take a longer break of around 20 minutes. During each break, children should be encouraged to get up, move around, and clear their minds.
This enables the child to release the stress, energy, and anxiety that has built up during the Pomodoro study segment. It also helps them avoid becoming overwhelmed or overtired.
Segment large tasks
Large projects can be intimidating for everyone, but when you are neurodiverse, they can become paralyzing. However, dividing large projects into small milestones can help children remain motivated and engaged while also ensuring they’re progressing steadily toward the timely completion of the project.
Using an incremental approach to task completion can also help neurodiverse children gain confidence while alleviating the pressure to keep pace with the class. Through careful planning and the segmenting of assignments, neurodiverse children can work at their own pace while celebrating each small accomplishment along the way.
Mitigating the effects of screens
Another important but often overlooked time management technique involves better regulating screen time. To be sure, many children who are neurodiverse benefit from the use of devices such as tablets and smartphones, in their learning process.
However, digital screens can also have decidedly harmful impacts on children’s productivity, as well as on their ability to manage time effectively. For example, excessive screen time has been shown to increase stress hormone levels in neurotypical children.
These effects appear to be exacerbated in neurodiverse children, who may experience an increase in autism-related symptomatology, including problems with sleep and adaptive behavior, when exposed to prolonged screen time.
There is also evidence that regular and prolonged use of digital devices can result in computer vision syndrome, a disorder that can cause headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and vision problems.
When children are in pain, having trouble with their vision, or not getting sufficient, high-quality sleep, it’s going to be impossible for them to manage time effectively. Regulating screen time to prevent computer vision syndrome can help ensure that kids feel well enough, and rested enough, to adhere to their planned schedule.
Use timers, calendars, and graphic organizers
Schoolwork can become overwhelming for every student, but it can be particularly anxiety-inducing in children who are neurodiverse. This is why it’s so important to do all you can to help reduce the pressure that kids feel when they’re facing a major project or a rigorous course load.
Scheduling, time-tracking, and organizational tools can give kids one less thing to worry about when they’re tackling a tough assignment or a packed school week. Timers can help remind kids to take frequent breaks.
Calendars, on the other hand, enable them not to break large projects into manageable chunks but also to track their progress toward the completion of their ultimate goal.
Similarly, graphic organizers can help students visualize their study and project schedule. These can also help neurodiverse children prioritize tasks. Pictures and icons, for example, can be used to help them plan and organize their study schedule in a way that may be more accessible to them than text-based calendars and timelines.
Developing strong time management skills is essential to academic success for most students. However, time management can pose a particular challenge for neurodiverse children. Fortunately, there are several techniques parents and educators can use to help children who are neurodiverse learn to manage their time more effectively. This includes teaching children to break large projects into smaller chunks, to focus on one task at a time, take frequent breaks, establish milestones, use time trackers and scheduling tools, and regulate screen time.