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Dr. Lundeberg's Blog

Dr. Lundeberg writes this blog covering topics related to struggles often present in adolescent and young adult clients with both on and off the autism spectrum.

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Autism Spectrum Disorder and Poor Homework Completion: “It’s Not Done”

Student Writing

There are many reasons students struggle to turn in their homework.  Sometimes it is an organization problem and the assignments get lost before arriving in the teacher’s hands.  Sometimes it is a distractibility or concentration problem and the homework never gets started because something much more entertaining got in the way.  Sometimes it is an oppositional problem and the assignment is just too stupid to even try!  All of these reasons often leave everyone involved quite frustrated and each can result in poor homework completion.  However, the barrier to homework completion that I am writing about today is a fairly common struggle for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), feeling that the homework isn’t completed perfectly.  Rigidity in thinking and struggles with flexibility are extremely common in students with ASD.  So is a strong adherence to rules and that assignments need to be completed the “right” way.  Not always the teacher’s way, but certainly their way.  Sometimes this results in so much time being spent on each problem that the whole assignment is only completed to 60-75% by the time it’s due.  Other times the assignment is completed, but it doesn’t feel perfect and the student wants to keep working on it past the due date. The problem is, it doesn’t matter how finished the assignment is, if it’s not turned in, that’s a zero.  This isn’t a logic problem either.  As a parent you may get nods in agreement that turning in an imperfect assignment that is 90% done is better than getting zero credit not turning it in at all.  Yet the assignments still sit on the desk or tucked away in the backpack.  So, where do we go from here?  How can we work on getting those imperfect assignments into the hands of teachers and into the grading books?


The answers to these questions will be unique for each student, but where I like to start is with the goal.  After building a strong sense of trust and a therapeutic relationship, I start exploring what is the goal they have for school.  Sometimes it is doing well and moving on to college.  Other times it is getting parents off their back.  For some, it is not having a clear goal at all and thinking it’s so stupid they are forced to go to school in the first place!  Whatever the goal is, then we examine if the choice to not turn in imperfect homework assignments is helping to achieve that goal.  Does a zero in the gradebook help your GPA?  Granted a D overall in a class can be an issue, but with all the graded assignments we can build back up from a 60% on one or two.  Certainly, easier than building back up from a zero!  If the goal is getting parents to back off, we can all agree not turning in assignments will do nothing to meet that goal either.  So school is stupid?  If we look hard enough there still is some goal there, which is maybe just getting it over with.  I often wonder how much energy some students spend fighting back against school and if that’s actually taking up more time than just doing the work and we don’t hurt the school by NOT doing our work, only ourselves.  This is just one part of what can be a long pattern with many pieces, but I recommend always having the goal in mind.  Be it big or small, I really examine with my clients this topic to make sure choices are helping them toward their goal and not working against it.

Posted June 12, 2020

Written by Matt Lundeberg, Psy.D.

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