ADHD and Hyperfocus

Some doctors think the “d” for “deficit” doesn’t belong in ADHD. They say it isn’t that you can’t focus, but that you can’t control your focus.

Sometimes your attention goes quickly from one thing to the next. Other times you can concentrate on something so hard that you lose track of everything else going on around you. That’s called hyperfocus.

It isn’t an official symptom of ADHD, but doctors say they often see it in people who have the disorder.

What Is Hyperfocus?

People with ADHD aren’t the only ones who have hyperfocus. Just about anyone can get lost in something that interests them.

A psychologist in the early 1990s came up with a concept called flow. It’s when you become fully engaged in a challenging activity you enjoy. You shut out the rest of the world and even lose track of time. People who have ADHD have trouble breaking out of it and switching their attention to something else.

Screen time seems to be a particularly easy way for someone to slip into hyperfocus. Video games, television, or social media can take up hours of time.

What’s the Link Between Hyperfocus and ADHD?

Parts of the brain work differently in people who have ADHD, compared with people who don’t.

There’s been very little research into hyperfocus, but one study looked at brain activity in people concentrating very hard. It found differences that could mean hyperfocus comes more naturally to people who have ADHD.

When Is Hyperfocus a Problem?

No one’s going to mind if you spend hours solving math problems or painting the house. But hyperfocus can cause trouble if you get so wrapped up in a project at work that you miss a dinner date, or your child can’t break away from a video game to do his homework.

It also can make it harder to diagnose ADHD, especially in kids considered gifted. They do better in school because their high IQs help them get past the issues with learning that usually go along with the disorder, and their ability to hyperfocus can make it even harder to spot.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on July 10, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Child Mind Institute: “Hyperfocus: The Flip Side of ADHD?”

Sklar, R. Hyperfocus in adult ADHD: An EEG study of the differences in cortical activity in resting and arousal states,” University of Johannesburg, 2013.

American Psychiatric Association: “What is ADHD?”

Katusic, M. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, February 2011.

Attention Deficit Disorder Association: “ADHD: The Facts.”

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