Focus, and the act of focusing, is something that many people face. Think about your own life. There must have been a moment when trying to focus was a particular feat, whether it be the struggle of trying to study for an exam or complete an assignment, or even something leisurely like reading or drawing. When considering those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a key symptom is difficulty focusing. Individuals may find distractions overwhelming and deviations from the task at hand to be frequent when attempting to complete an activity. An often forgotten symptom of ADHD is hyperfocus, the complete opposite of focusing difficulty. Hyperfocus can be defined as “highly focused attention that lasts a long time” (Web M.D, n.d.) and can be difficult for people to understand or even comprehend, especially when one of the most visible symptoms of ADHD is difficulty sustaining attention for long periods of time.
In instances of hyperfocus, individuals may feel completely engulfed in a particular activity, as if they are “in the zone.” For hours on end, nothing else can seemingly interrupt what they are doing. Hyperfocus may seem contradictory to the typical depiction of those with ADHD as it is assumed by many that those with ADHD have issues with attention. However, this is not true. In fact, having or keeping one’s attention may not necessarily be the struggle. Many people with ADHD can keep their attention on something. It is what the focus of attention is on that may be the struggle. For instance, someone can spend hours playing a videogame or even hours completely absorbed by a book, but they may experience significant difficulty finishing or even starting an assigned task. Hyperfocus can also include spending an extended amount of time completing projects and assignments. This can particularly work in one’s favor when behind on projects. It should be noted that hyperfocus does not eliminate procrastination and can even add to procrastination based on the activity being done. Hyperfocus in any particular activity can also influence how the individual is perceived. When hyperfocusing on an activity like gaming or watching television, one might be seen as lazy or unproductive. Yet if someone is hyperfocused on work or academic-related activities, they may be seen as motivated and be praised for their behavior.
It is important to distinguish between hyperfocus and hyperfixation, another symptom that may be present with ADHD that, though similar, is considerably different. While hyperfocus is a state of being where someone is focused for long periods of time, hyperfixation is more of an obsession with something. The subject of obsession can be anything from a type of food to an activity like building miniature dolls. For some, this may look like eating the same meal every day, almost every meal for weeks and even months. Hyperfixation is similar to hyperfocus in the sense that it involves doing something for long periods of time and can have different impacts based on the different activities. However, a distinguishing factor is the presence of the particular obsession or fixation on something for much longer periods of time than hyperfocus.
Hyperfocus is an often misunderstood and forgotten aspect of ADHD and can have a significant impact on someone’s life. It pushes against the assumed narrative of people with ADHD. Notably, hyperfocus provides a clear demonstration of how ADHD is not a homogenous condition. It may look very different in different people from what you think or thought it might be. As we inch closer to understanding hyperfocus and other aspects of ADHD, we move forward in understanding the general condition and the people that have it. With every step, we increase knowledge and information to help others and help ourselves understand the many differences that so many of us face.
Hyperfocus. Web M.D. (n.d.). https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/hyperfocus-flow