Ask the Experts

Get More Done with a Body Double

Many people with ADHD find it easier to stay focused on housework, homework, bill paying, and other tasks when someone else is around to keep them company.

a mom with ADHD pays bills while her son mops the floor, both get things done using the body double technique
a mom pays bills while her son mops the floor

What’s a body double? In the movies, it’s an actor who stands in for the leading man or woman during certain shots. But in the world of ADHD, a body double is someone who sits with a person with ADHD as he tackles tasks that might be difficult to complete alone.

Many people with ADHD find it easier to stay focused on housework, homework, bill paying, and other tasks when someone else is around to keep them company. The body double may just sit quietly. He may read, listen to music on headphones, or work on the task that the person with ADHD is working on. Hard work is simply more fun when someone else is nearby.

A body double could be someone who lives with the person who has ADHD — a roommate, spouse, or parent. Depending on the task to be performed, the body double might be a sympathetic friend or another person with ADHD. Body doubles can be helpful for getting stuff done in a wide range of situations — including the following five:

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1. You need help with housework.
Many adults with ADHD find chores easier to accomplish if they form a support group with others who have ADHD. Going house-to-house, cleaning with a team, seems to get the job done.

Next time you want to yell at your child to clean her room, try being a body double instead. Don’t do the work for your child. Offer suggestions: “Remember, socks go in the top drawer,” or “Balls go in the red box and hats on the shelf.” Often, an encouraging adult’s presence is all a child needs to stay on task.

2. You keep falling behind on paperwork.
If you’re having trouble paying your bills, filling out insurance forms, or completing other financial tasks, a body double can be a godsend.

3. You’re determined to stick with an exercise regimen.
It’s easier to stick to a routine when a body double expects you to show up for workouts. Set up a time to run each morning, or schedule an exercise class together several days a week.

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4. Your child has trouble with homework.
Your presence in the room reminds your child that help is available, and provides the “brakes” that keep her from distractions. Feel free to offer an occasional encouraging word, but don’t overdo it. You’re not there to coach.

A body double can help college students, too. Set up a regular time and place to meet with the body double (typically several times a week in a library or another quiet place). If the student is late, the body double calls to remind her. The double could be a classmate doing his own coursework or a friend who just reads or listens to music on headphones.

5. A college student needs help eating right.
College students with ADHD often forget to stop for meals. Having a set time to eat with friends will help develop a regular routine. The student might even go grocery shopping with his body double for food to have on hand in the dorm.

Patricia Quinn, M.D., is a member of the ADDitude ADHD Medical Review Panel.

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