Dear Dr. Fournier: I read your article in our newspaper in Mary-land regarding ADHD children. I would like some information on how to help my son identify the "process" he is missing in order to gauge how much work he is capable of doing in a measured amount of time.
The assessment: In my practice, I constantly see students of all ages who seem to be unable to finish their work on time.What most of these children have in common is one characteristic: They are absolutely overwhelmed at the amount of work that they are asked to do in what others consider to be a "reasonable" time.
These children often do not know their own working capacity - the ability to look at a task and intuitively know how long it will take you to complete that task with the quality that is desired or expected. And this is not a problem limited to children. In fact, it can move from school to the adult work-place with the same destructive consequences.
What to do: Get a small digital timer that has a clip attached to it. Every time you tell your child that he has a certain amount of time to get something done, set the timer.
For example, when you tell your child that he can ride his bike but must be home in 20 minutes, set the timer for 15 minutes and clip it to his belt. When the timer goes off, your son knows it is time to head for home.
Use the timer for any kind of regular activity, whether it's taking a bath or brushing his teeth. Children need to understand that time limits and their working capacity govern every part of their life, not just their school work.
Whenever your child brings home an assignment, ask him how long he thinks the task will take him. Listen to him and do not try to correct him. If a first-grader believes it will take "four hours" to do 100 math problems, then set the timer for four hours. The important thing is to allow your child to test his own perception of time.
As your child begins the task, you may set intermediate goals. For example, "Let's see how much time it takes to do just 10 problems." Many children are surprised when "four hours" turn into four minutes.
This second strategy - timing smaller "chunks" of the assignment - works well for older students and adults. Start by estimating how much time it will take, and then compare that to the actual time. Keep a record so you can refer to similar assignments you completed in the past in order to make better estimates in the future.
Repeating the process helps provide reassurance, which allows students to tackle school assignments with a decreasing level of fear and panic.
Knowing your own working capacity is one of the most important skills to be able to be an independent learner and worker, both inside and outside the home. When we do not know this secret about ourselves, we are constantly setting ourselves up for goals that we cannot meet or results that we cannot achieve because we function with fear rather than security.