Cut! Send in the body double, please

I recently learned that in the world of adult ADHD there is a focusing strategy called “body double.” Turns out some adult ADDers are more successful at staying on task if they have a companion.

An ADD husband, for example, can sometimes get through the monthly bills more easily if his wife sits at the kitchen table with him while she works on her own task. She doesn’t have to prompt or redirect, she just needs to be a physical presence. An ADHD mom can conquer routine household chores that otherwise feel overwhelming if she has a partner, perhaps another woman in her neighborhood who also needs to get chores done; they work as a team starting at one home and moving on to the other providing the structure of presence that helps the ADDer push through.
There’s something about having someone else at hand—a body double—that triggers the ability and commitment to focus and stay on task. ADHD coaches are known to recommend this coping strategy to the men and women who hire them, adults seeking some extra help in organizing and being more successful in their lives. I’m not sure why but as the parent of an ADHD child, I had never heard the term “body double” in this context until a fellow blogger commented on one of my posts about homework woes and suggested that my son might need one.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that not only did Joe likely need a body double, but he has probably been employing the strategy ad hoc for much of his life. Just a few weeks ago he proclaimed with frustration his need to have someone with him “24/7” to get his school work done. I have puzzled for years over his ability to easily tackle homework in the school setting during after-school programs juxtaposed to his blatant inability to focus on that same work at home.
I get that he’s tired after school and wants a break, but presumably he was just as tired at 4:30 at his after school program as he was in my kitchen after I stopped working. I used to attribute it to the physical school setting somehow cueing his brain to cooperate, but couldn’t it just as easily be the presence of a compatriot at school? Having another student, or students, sitting at the homework table with him provided him a body double experience. He had peer support that enabled him to override his fatigue and distractibility. The body double supported and helped him maintain focus to be successful with homework in a way that I (his parent and an authority figure) haven’t been able to do.
 I have also struggled mightily over the years with Joe and sleeping. Without sleep medication, he can’t settle down and drift off despite his exhaustion. Before resorting to medication less than a year ago, there was one thing that helped Joe sleep: someone else in bed with him. Another’s presence next to him allowed him to rest. A therapist said Joe didn’t have the ability to self soothe; he needed someone else for that. At 11 years old, we’re finally making progress with Joe sleeping on his own through the night with the help of the medication, but I’m wondering if some of his struggle is a body double issue.
We had a bad night a couple weeks ago when even on the medication Joe couldn’t wind down. About midnight I bent the new house rule in favor of some sleep for him on a school night and went to lie down with him. Within a couple of hours he was sleeping soundly. The next morning I asked him what goes on when he can’t sleep. Why does having someone with him help?
“I don’t know; I just feel better with you there—more settled inside—and I can sleep.”
 So am I my son’s body double? Do I need to find a homework buddy for him? I’ve been analyzing and reanalyzing our routines since learning about the body double concept and am increasingly aware that my presence (or someone’s) is needed for Joe to accomplish just about anything—his hyper-focused computer gaming being the primary exception. If adult ADDers are known to benefit, it stands to reason that children and teens with ADHD will perform better with a body double, too?
And if Joe gets one, can I have one? For the record, I’d like mine to be about 35 and in better shape than me.

Tammy Murphy

Tammy Murphy is a journalist on hiatus. She’s the mother of two—a 14-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son whose ADHD and related symptoms were evident practically from the womb. Tammy is a native of Maryland and a recent Georgia transplant. She started blogging about her up-and-down experiences with Joe—and life in general—as much-needed therapy.

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adhd and school, attention/focus, homework, Tammy Murphy, Tammy Time ·

About the author

Tammy Murphy is a journalist on hiatus. She’s the mother of two—a 14-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son whose ADHD and related symptoms were evident practically from the womb. Tammy is a native of Maryland and a recent Georgia transplant. She started blogging about her up-and-down experiences with Joe—and life in general—as much-needed therapy.

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The "ADHD Mommas" are not medical or mental health professionals, nor an ADHD coach. Any opinions shared here are just that, opinions. I, and the other "ADHD Mommas," are sharing our experiences with our own ADHD children. Please do not re-post or publish any content or photos without a link back to {a mom's view of ADHD}. Have the courtesy to give credit where credit is due. Copyright protected. All rights reserved.

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