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Tim DeLuca, MS, CCC-SLP and Katharine M. Radville, MS, CCC-SLP
MGH Institute of Health Professions

Developmental language disorder (DLD) can impact any subject in school because all subjects require language. Challenges in language arts (reading, writing) may be obvious for children with DLD. However, math, science, and social studies may also be difficult. It is not surprising that these challenges often extend to homework. Homework may be stressful for any child. It is often more stressful when the child has DLD. Homework may take longer and require extra support. Fortunately, there are many ways that adults can support children with DLD so that homework is less frustrating and more successful.

Understand How Language Impacts Homework

Just as language can impact academic work at school, it can impact academic work at home. For example, social studies assignments may include unfamiliar vocabulary and topics. Science chapters may involve complex sentences like, “We predict that the water will evaporate.” Math assignments may include story problems. In any subject area, homework can include complicated instructions. These instructions may require both reading words accurately and understanding the meaning of the text.

Develop a Shared Understanding

Your child’s teacher may know a lot or only a little about DLD. If your child is working with a speech-language pathologist (SLP), meeting with the SLP and your child’s teacher together can be a great first step for addressing concerns about homework. In many cases, the SLP may already be working very closely with your child’s teacher. If they are not, this will be an important opportunity to make sure that the SLP knows about homework expectations and concerns. This may include developing a shared understanding about the vocabulary and sentence complexity expectations across school and homework assignments. The SLP will look at example assignments and suggest modifications and strategies based on your child’s strengths and challenges.

If your child is not working with an SLP, there are still ways that you can work with your child’s teacher. First, make your child’s teacher aware of DLD and the impact of your child’s DLD on homework. How long does it take your child to complete homework on a typical night? Are there particular subjects or types of assignments that are very difficult? Identify one or two specific challenges your child experiences while completing homework. Your child’s teachers need to know this information. Encourage the teacher to explore resources and articles on this website to support their understanding of DLD. Next, ask your child’s teacher to share the purpose of homework. For example, is the purpose to practice what was taught in school? Is the goal to teach students to use skills independently? Is the homework assigned to support memory or organizational skills by building routines? Homework can even be used to evaluate background knowledge about new material. Understanding the purpose of homework can help to determine appropriate expectations and modifications. Finally, ask your teacher to consult with the school’s SLP if they are not working together already. When families and schools work together to share information and ideas, children with DLD benefit.

Support Strategies for Completing Homework

Family life is busy! Keeping this in mind, here are some general strategies for supporting homework success that do not require much extra time or other resources.

  1. Break down lengthy information. A paragraph of instructions can be overwhelming for children with DLD. Encourage your child to read one sentence at a time. Check to make sure that they understand the instructions.
  2. Make sure your child understands the instructions before they begin any assignment. For example, if your child is completing a story problem during a math assignment, check in to make sure they know what the problem is asking before they begin calculations.
  3. Keep instructions visible and available. Many children with DLD benefit from reviewing instructions multiple times when completing an assignment. Encourage your child to refer to the instructions as often as they need to.
  4. Help your child use tools to support organization. This could include a planner, calendar, or weekly to-do list. Before you start using an organizational tool, check in with your child’s school. Using one system both at home and at school is almost always the most helpful.
  5. Use different methods for helping your child understand their homework assignments. Ask the school team to share models, examples, audio, pictures, and videos that will support your child’s understanding and completion of the assignment.
  6. Build routines. This can include identifying a regular time of day to complete homework and identifying a consistent place to store homework-related materials. Having sharpened pencils or other commonly used materials ready to use and in a consistent location can be very helpful.
  7. Develop appropriate accommodations. For example, are there a few different ways that a student can complete homework (e.g., dictation, writing, typing, recording video or audio, drawing)? Can homework directions and/or procedures remain consistent across multiple assignments?
  8. When possible, help your child identify a quiet, distraction-free environment in which to complete assignments. Understandably, this can be challenging! However, simple changes can be very helpful. Removing distractions such as toys or clutter from even a small area can make a big difference.
  9. Remember, you are not alone! Share your concerns with your child’s teacher and formulate a plan together to support your child.

Overall, remember that homework can be frustrating for all children! Hopefully, your child’s school team is already considering how to best support your child to make completing homework helpful and meaningful. If not, a collaboration between parents, teachers, and SLPs can help make homework as enjoyable and successful as possible. Parents are not alone when it comes to supporting homework success!

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Ziegenfusz, S., Paynter, J., Flückiger, B. & Westerveld, M.F. (2022). A systematic review of the academic achievement of primary and secondary school-aged students with developmental language disorder. Autism and Developmental Language Impairments, 7, 1-33. 10.1177/23969415221099397