Hyperfocus – the reason a child with ADHD can concentrate (at times)

Hyperfocus – the reason a child with ADHD can concentrate (at times)

One of the common misconceptions about children with ADHD is that their difficulties sustaining concentration and attention are equal across contexts, tasks, and activities. However, in many of the children that I work with, their parents (and sometimes teachers) report that they are able to focus for long periods when completing activities that are of interest to them. This ability is often referred to as ‘hyperfocus’ and affects many children who have ADHD.

What is hyperfocus?

Hyperfocus is the experience of deep and intense concentration. It is the ability to immerse yourself in an activity that you want to do or enjoy to the point of becoming oblivious to everything around you. This concentration can be so intense that your child loses track of time, other chores, or the surrounding environment. While this level of intensity can be channeled into difficult tasks. The downside is that children with ADHD can become immersed in unproductive activities while ignoring their responsibilities. 

Children with ADHD may only have half the ability to concentrate than other individuals. It is for this reason that if they intensely focus on something that is interesting or exciting to them (such as watching television or playing a computer game), they have no extra attention with which to monitor the environment. For example, when playing a computer game. They do not hear calls for lunch because all 50% of their attention is on the game.

The benefit of hyperfocus

Hyperfocus can affect your child positively (as seen in the success of many scientists, artists and writers). Not only does it allow people with ADHD to get a lot done in a short amount of time. It allows them to fully devote their attention to something that interests them. The result of this is that they can often improve their skills through hours and hours of focused, dedicated effort.

Dealing with hyperfocus

It can be difficult to interrupt a child from a period of hyperfocus. It is however a crucial part of regulating ADHD. Here are some suggestions for managing your child’s hyperfocus:

  • Explain the concept of hyperfocus to your child. Your child’s insight and understanding can help them see what needs to be changed.
  • Create and enforce a schedule for common hyperfocus activities. For example, restrict time spent watching television or playing computer games. Restrict time spent on devices if you know your child will ‘zone’ you and the world out.
  • Help the child find an interest that removes them from isolated time and fosters social interaction. This could include music or sport.
  • It can be difficult to pull a child out of a state of hyperfocus. Try using markers such as the end of television programme, as a signal to refocus their attention. Important tasks, appointments, and relationships can be forgotten if the child is not interrupted. Examples include tapping them on the shoulder or using a bell can help refocus their attention.
  • Use times and alarms so your child is aware of how much time has passed since they started the activity.
  • Help set breaks in between activities that your child may hyperfocus on. Set milestones on activities have your child stop each time they reach one. For example, if your child is playing a computer game and wins a level. Ask your child to stop the game and help you with a productive activity.

Children with ADHD can concentrate at times. The reason for this is that ADHD is not necessarily a deficit of attention. Rather it is a problem with regulating one’s attention span to desired tasks. So, while mundane tasks may be difficult to focus on, others may be completely absorbing. If you are concerned that your child has ADHD, seek professional medical advice on how to best manage it.

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