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When it comes to test prep tutoring, it’s important to consider the specific requirements of students with ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and students with autism. These neurodevelopmental conditions present both unique strengths and distinct challenges that must be addressed to optimize students’ learning experience and improve test performance.

Ultimately, tutoring for each student will differ – ADHD and autism are different for everyone. So, I spend time learning about how each student thinks and processes information and develops strategies from there. However, there are some general ideas that I keep in mind for students with ADHD and autism. 

Working with Students with ADHD

Students with ADHD are often very creative. They create unique connections between topics and develop all sorts of different approaches to a problem or concept. With each student, I learn their creative and cognitive styles and try to present content and strategies in ways that complement the patterns and connections the student creates. 

Testing Strategies for Students with ADHD

  • Use the student’s curiosity to make the test more interesting.
    • Search for “tricks” in the test (“How is the test trying to trick me?”)
    • Do the problem types that you like the most first.
    • Complete the section in “waves” or in a specified pattern instead of completing the questions in order.
  • Chunk information in the reading sections
  • Identify clues or cues in the test to tell us what to do and how to solve the questions quickly.

Tutoring Strategies for Students with ADHD

  • Reduce the overall number of tasks.
  • Present assignments and studying in ways that help prevent overwhelm.
    • It’s important to identify how much homework is enough homework.
  • Present goals for goal-oriented students 
    • Keep track of notecard accuracy every day and report back to me next week
    • Create graphs for homework accuracy or practice test scores.
  • Create games or self-competitive activities.
  • Hands on / immersive learning
    • Work at the white board together
    • Have the student teach me how to solve problems.
  • Encourage focus, don’t force it.
    • I’d rather allow my student to space out or tell me an off-topic story for two minutes than force them back on topic. It’s easier to reel a student back in after the detour, otherwise I might lose the student’s focus as they’re thinking about the story I didn’t let them tell.
  •  Work on strategies for task initiation 
    • Homework, studying, even using a strategy on a test may be hard to start.
  • Provide additional stimulation to maintain interest and engagement.
    • I always allow movement during sessions.
    • I sometimes even provide fidget toys (my favorite is acupressure rings)

Working with Students with Autism

Students with autism are very good at developing incredibly strong systems of logic. This article covers some of the different types of logical strengths that some autistic individuals possess. There are different types of logic that different individuals will excel at, so I spend some time learning my students’ unique logic styles and work to design strategies and sets of rules that fit into their own frameworks. It’s very important to fit the rules of the test into the student’s existing internal logic systems.

Test Strategies for Students with Autism

  • Predictable and consistent processes
    • “For this type of problem, we always do ____”
  • “If/then” style rules and procedures
    • “If we see ____, then we do _____”
  • Close analysis of the reading section
    • Focus on figurative vs. literal interpretations and determine which is appropriate.

Tutoring Strategies for Students with Autism

  • Provide visuals for every topic.
  • Use concrete, consistent language.
    • Be very literal.
    • Don’t change the way that you discuss something – use the same language each time you discuss a topic.
  • Predictable and consistent routines 
    • An example session routine might look like
      • Start with a punctuation rule quiz.
      • Homework review and time to ask questions.
      • Complete a reading passage together.
      • The rest of the lesson plan will follow the above routine.
  • Provide several examples.
    • Give the student multiple chances to pick an example, or provide context that makes the most sense.
  • Attempt to include special topics/interests. 
    • If my student tells me about their special interests, I’ll do what I can to connect our lessons to that interest.
    • This can work well to give the student a baseline for remembering a process or concept, then we can work on “translating” it to different contexts.
    • For example, if a student is really interested in cars, I can teach them math concepts in relation to cars or teach them reading strategies using articles focusing on cars. Then, we can discuss the strategies we used, how they worked, and how we can use them in different contexts.
  • Try to prevent overwhelm or overstimulation.
    • This can be a combination of monitoring the student’s reactions and encouraging self-monitoring and communication as regular parts of lessons.

Tutoring Strategies for Students with ADHD and/or Autism

  • Write out the plan or schedule for the session.
  • Provide written homework descriptions and study plans.
  • Have them do a lot of writing and notetaking.

Some students may even have both ADHD and autism. In these cases, I spend time getting to know the student and determine which traits of each condition are most prevalent. Each student may have a different combination of traits and habits, requiring a different combination of the strategies I’ve mentioned and often some unique, personalized strategies.  

Even given the lists of strategies above, each student’s program is individualized and unique to that student. It’s important to prioritize matching the tutoring approach to the student’s specific needs. The above lists provide good guidelines and ideas for working with students with ADHD and autism, but both conditions are so different in everyone that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. A tutor that can match your student’s style and develop strategies that work for them is vital.

I’m really looking forward to writing more of my study tips for neurodivergent students! If you have any questions or if you have other study tips that have worked well for you, feel free to email me, Jamie, at jamie@mindfish.com. I’m always happy to hear from students or their parents and swap strategies for academic success.

Posts from Jamie’s study tips:

Study Tips from a Tutor with ADHD – Part 1

Study Tips from a Tutor with ADHD – Part 2

Jamie O’Brien

Jamie is an experienced tutor, executive functions coach, and certified cognitive disorders coach who has ADHD and autism. She specializes in unique programs for students with learning differences. Jamie is passionate about alternative forms of education and has co-authored and published a paper on project-based, multi-sensory learning. With her background in engineering and anthropology, she often tutors STEM courses and coaches writing.

Jamie OBrien Headshot