Just Needs Podcast: Episode 42

Body doubling and other parenting tips for neurodivergent adults.

As a neurodivergent parent, how can I teach my neurodivergent child skills that they’ll need? Listen along for some parenting tips that may help you and them.

Listen to Episode 42Visit podcast homepage

Christina Kozik:

Hello and welcome to Just Needs, a podcast where we talk about parenting children with disabilities. I’m your host, Christina Kozik. I too am a parent of a child with a disability, and let me just say I am so glad you’re here.

This podcast is a project of Exceptional Lives, a nonprofit organization that supports families like yours. You can learn more about Exceptional Lives at our website, www.exceptionallives.org.

This week I want to share something with you that’s been on my mind a lot recently, and that is understanding the neurodivergent individual in your life, and how to support them.

Before I dive into what I mean, I want to explain what neurodivergent means. The term neurodivergent describes people whose brain differences affect how their brain works. That means that they have different strengths and challenges from people whose brains don’t have those same differences. 

The possible differences could include medical disorders, learning disabilities, and other conditions. People who are autistic or have ADHD may refer to themselves as neurodivergent, but it can also include people with conditions ranging from down syndrome to dyslexia.

As I’m sure you’ve gathered, I’m a neurodivergent parent raising a neurodivergent child. My son and I both have ADHD. This means that there are a lot of things that I see, do, and understand that a neurotypical person may not. Especially when it comes to things like my house, and even my routine.

I often have to remind myself that we live in a neurotypical world set up by neurotypicals for neurotypicals. 

Like your home, for your family, my home is my family’s safe space. 

  • This is where we don’t have to mask, which means we don’t have to hide or change any of our behaviors or habits that don’t always work for neurotypical people.
  • We have fidgets all over the house so they’re easy to find when we need them.
  • There’s a weighted blanket that we keep in the living room so anyone can use it when they need it.
  • We even stim if we need to.

Now, stimming is a natural process for self-soothing that’s usually a repetitive motion or a sound. When my son was younger, he would spin all the time. And we let him. So what we’re doing is setting up our space to work for us. 

If you’re not neurodivergent but your child is, you may have to set up space throughout your home to work for them. Observe their behavior first to figure out what their needs are. Then work with them to try to figure out what to do or try. Doing this allows you and them to have the space to learn or hone skills that you need to manage your life. 

Now, I want to share three tips that have worked for me and my family over the last few years.

The first tip has to do with remembering things. This is about object permanence

Object permanence is best described as out of sight, out of mind. If I don’t see something, it no longer exists. For someone with ADHD, this is caused by a lack of concentration and poor working memory. This means I can forget to take meds or make an appointment if I don’t have some sort of visual trigger.

One way I combat this is I have my meds on my desk so that I can see them and remember to take them. I also keep all my shoes lined up under my bed, and all my clothes are hanging in my closet. 

When I used to use a dresser, I always forgot about items that I owned. Finding ways to remember things that work for me has allowed me to not have to rebuy things, and also not feel guilty because I forgot to do a task. Yet again.

The second tip is body doubling

Y’all, this is one of my favorite things to do, and I’ve been doing it since before I knew what it was. Body doubling is a productivity aid that may help neurodivergent people stay focused and motivated while they’re working. 

A body double is a person who works alongside you, either in-person or virtually, as you complete a task you might otherwise neglect. 

There are many ways you can body double.

  • You can talk to someone on the phone while you’re washing dishes or folding laundry. 
  • You can join a virtual group online or through social media. You can even ask a coworker or a partner to just be in the same room with you as you’re working on a difficult task.
  • When you join a group like Work Buddies on TikTok and Discord, the person leading the session usually sets a timer for focused work time, and gives you reminders like drink water, eat lunch. 
  • For my son, body doubling looks like me sitting in his room while he plays Legos, or helping him sort through clean clothes that need to be put away.

If you haven’t heard of this concept, please give it a try. It’s a game changer, and something that you can do with little to no effort on your part.

The third tip is using visual schedules and checklists to keep you organized. 

For our family, this looks like a small board near where my son hangs his backpack up. Some of the tasks on it say meds taken? Or, backpack and violin? 

I made a simple checklist of things that my son needs every day, and I check those items off as we get ready in the morning so that I can quickly see what is still left to do.

I also have the school lunch menu right above the board so I know what days he needs lunch. I also still use a wall calendar that I fill out once a month, and then as needed, so everyone can see what’s coming up. 

I paperclip important bills, birthday invites, and sticky notes directly to the calendar as a visual reminder as well.

We hang this calendar up in our walkway that we pass through multiple times a day so we can always see it. 

Do I still miss tasks in the morning, or forget to make an appointment? Sure, I’m human. And I have human moments. Nothing is foolproof. 

But I’ve noticed fewer things get forgotten, and my mental load is lightened, by using visual schedules and checklists.

Again, friends, these are things that have worked for me and my family. Will they work for you and your family? Maybe, hopefully. But if they don’t, you can always try something different, and keep trying things until you find something that works for you.

One last thing. I’m really good at giving advice or helpful information, but I don’t always follow my own advice. 

These tips are things that I’m doing when I’m operating at peak performance, but may not be something that I might do on any given Tuesday morning. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken my son his glasses or his violin at school because we both forgot to grab them. 

Again, I’m human, and so are you. And when this stuff happens, we can just accept that we’re having a human moment and move on.

And before I leave you, I want to give you these two reminders. 

  • To neurodivergent parents raising neurodivergent children, when they see you managing your life and space in a way that works for you, it normalizes that. It shows them that they can try skills and techniques, and try again and again until they find out what will work for them. 
  • And to neurotypical parents who are doing this for and with your neurodivergent child, you are demonstrating that it’s normal for different people to operate in different ways. And you are supporting them.

As always, I hope you found this information helpful. If you have any skill suggestions, please let me know at info@exceptionallives.org, or on Facebook and Instagram. If you know someone who would benefit from this episode, please share it with them.

This podcast was written and presented by me, Christina Kozik, For Exceptional Lives. You can subscribe and follow the podcast at our website, www.exceptionallives.org/justneedspodcast

Our website also has blogs, guides, and a resource directory for Massachusetts and Louisiana. We’d love for you to follow us on Facebook and Instagram at Exceptional Lives. 

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Click to play Just Needs Podcast: Parenting children with disabilities episode 42 on Buzzsprout.