Ask the Experts

Q: “What’s the Best Homework Station for a Child with ADHD?”

The best desk for completing homework or distance learning may not be a desk at all, but rather a spot where your child with ADHD has a body double to keep them focused on the task at hand.

Children doing homework on the kitchen table
Children doing homework on the kitchen table

Q: “My son is 10, has ADHD and always wants to do homework wherever I am. I set him up with a homework station in his room, but he never wants to sit there. I tell him to go to his room, he maybe stays for 10 minutes and then comes to find me and his brothers. Should I let him be with me where there is a lot of commotion and noise or should I make him stay in his room?” – TweenMom

Hi TweenMom:

Your question is among the most common I receive from parents. Many think their student can only activate on homework while sitting at a desk. In a quiet room. Alone. And with the door closed. And we know that this way of thinking is old school; especially for children with ADHD.

Your son is actually telling you what he needs to get his work done. And it is called body doubling — one of my most successful “go-to” strategies for students (and even adults) to help them initiate and stay on task. A “body double” functions as an anchor. Literally. The presence of another individual acts as a force field; focusing you and making it possible to get going and stay there. Some students need someone sitting right next to them; others just need a presence in the same room or even floor of the home.

Let me share a story with you about one of my student coaching clients.

I met Ryan when he was in middle school. When it was time for Ryan to do homework, he opted to wander the house in search of his three younger, noisy siblings. His mom would redirect him back to his bedroom, where it was quiet, so he could work. Or at least try to.

[Click to Read: The Homework System That Really Works]

On my initial visit to Ryan’s house, I headed straight to his room. On the third floor, it was extremely quiet and secluded from the rest of the house. I asked Ryan if he liked doing homework there. Interestingly, Ryan told me he found it too quiet and isolated to concentrate. He said he gravitated to the downstairs because the noise generated by his siblings helped him feel connected, enabling him to relax and focus.

Tapping into his best practices, we came up with this plan: Ryan would do his homework on the kitchen table in the middle of all the commotion. He placed an inexpensive table-top presentation board on the tabletop to give him some privacy. In addition, he wore earplugs or listened to music to drown out some of his brothers’ noise. The only rule was that his brothers needed to ignore Ryan. With some other minor tweaks, Ryan was able to better initiate and complete his work in this setting.

It’s important to know that tutoring or working together on an assignment is not body doubling. Those are all wonderful ideas to keep you on task and on track, but true body doubling is quiet with just the presence of another person(s) to keep you focused.

So, my advice to you is this: Say yes to him sitting near you to do homework. Allow him to feel connected. And provide him with any tools that will allow him to focus in the space.

Homework Stations for Students with ADHD: Next Steps

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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