A confusing symptom of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is hyper focus, the ability to focus on a single activity for hours. ADHD sufferers whilst unable to concentrate in class, often have the ability to concentrate intently on activities that interest them. Hyper focus is not listed in the DSM-5 criteria for ADHD, and is very different from the other symptoms of ADHD.
ADHD sufferers often become so focused that they become oblivious to the world around them. This focus is narrower and more powerful than normal concentration and can be described as fixated. Once these people focus on a single activity, they find it difficult to shift their attention to another activity. They are drawn to activities such as computer games that offer instant feedback and gratification. ADHD sufferers have an unregulated attention system rather than just a short attention span, their attention settling on either end of the attention spectrum.
Some experts believe that hyper focus may be a coping mechanism which sufferers use to overcome their inattention. Some people are able to channel hyper focus into getting dull tasks done, some even making successful careers by channeling this focus into their work. Unfortunately, hyper focus is more often a liability. Children are likely to channel hyper focus into entertaining pastimes rather than into school work, combine this with poor time management and problems with socializing and the child could spend an inordinate amount of time playing computer games or other solitary activities.
Managing Hyper Focus in Children
To make the best of hyper focus in children, parents should make a list of the pastimes that their child tends to focus on, and then they and the teachers should limit the amount of time that a child spends on these pastimes. The favored pastimes should be used to encourage desired behaviors, allowing the child, for instance, to play his favorite games after homework has been completed.
The child should be told about how his brain works and why it is so difficult to break his attention. He should also know why the amount of time allowed for favored activities has been curtailed. He should be encouraged to take part in more social pastimes such as sport rather than focusing his attention on solitary pastimes.
Unless the child is roused from the period of hyper focus, he may spend hours in the activity ignoring all other tasks and responsibilities. To prevent this from happening the parents should set breaks between activities. If it is not addressed, hyper focus can be detrimental to the child, leading him to focus only on those things that interest him.
Children sometimes react to stressful situations such as an upcoming exam, by becoming hyper focused, so parents should be aware of when this is happening, and do what they can to reduce the stress, enabling the child to focus on what he/she should be doing.
The best way to deal with hyper focus is to harness it. Children with ADHD require stimulating classes, a challenge for teachers. Parents should try to make homework interesting, as this will lead to more cooperation when it comes to completing these tasks. If the child finds the subject matter interesting and challenging he/she will be able to focus better than his classmates without ADHD.
Managing Hyper Focus in Adults
Adults who suffer from hyper focus have to find ways to cope at home and at work. Adults can find themselves totally engrossed in tasks that interest them, working for hours, taking no account of outside distractions, missing appointments and failing to complete other necessary tasks.
The best way an adult can manage this problem is to make short lists of tasks that need to be done, prioritizing them, and then concentrating on completing them one at a time. They should find ways to prevent themselves from spending too much time on a single task. Timers or messages sent via SMS or computer can be used to remind the sufferer that it is time to move on to the next task. Friends or family members should be asked to assist in breaking the focus. Adult sufferers should reward themselves for completing tedious tasks.
Hyper focus is most likely to occur when the sufferer carries out challenging tasks that interest them. Adults with ADHD often thrive in a more urgent work environment, as they are able to focus on what is important. By finding a job that they find interesting, the adult with hyper focus can shine. ADHD adults are able to concentrate for very long periods of time on complex projects and many have used this to their advantage.
Used purposefully to do what needs to be done, hyper focus can be transformed into an advantage. If properly harnessed, it can offer clarity to the sufferer where previously there was none. By helping the child find what he/she most loves to do and developing his skill into a craft, parents can ensure that their child lives a fulfilling life. By doing what they most love to do, adults can achieve massive success.