Fidgeting, hyperactivity, lack of focus – we all know these symptoms of ADHD. One symptom that a lot of people may not know about though, is hyperfocus. It might sound a bit out of place in a list of ADHD symptoms, but that’s probably because ADHD is commonly misunderstood.
Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D., a psychologist and author in Silver Spring, Maryland, says the root of ADHD isn’t a short attention span, it’s a disregulated attention system. When we look at ADHD this way, hyperfocus makes perfect sense.
While hyperfocus might sound more like a blessing than a curse to some of us, the issue is a lack of balance. It’d be great if hyperfocus meant being able to block out distractions when at work, but this isn’t the case. Usually, hyperfocus looks more like a child watching TV for hours and not hearing you when you call for them. For adults, it could be online shopping while pushing off mundane paperwork, not realizing hours have passed.
The difference between someone simply getting really distracted for a few hours and someone with ADHD hyperfocus, is their dopamine levels. Scientists believe that hyperfocus boils down to a deficiency in dopamine, which is common among people with ADHD.
But the real question is, not how can someone break their hyperfocus – but rather how can they redirect it.
The simple answer is to make boring tasks more interesting. Easy, right? We know, if it were that simple, people would be doing it already. This methodology requires some effort.
If you’re a parent of a child with ADHD, you might struggle to get your child to focus on their homework. The key here is to harness the essence of something that they enjoy and try to apply that to homework. If your child can play video games for hours on end, maybe they thrive on competition. There might be a way to turn some homework assignments into a competitive game. If sitting still is the problem, maybe an educational game of charades would work.
Similarly, as an adult, pin point something you enjoy and see if you can turn it into a reward system. Finishing filling out expense reports, for example, could win you 10 minutes to scroll Facebook. But don’t let yourself fall into a black hole; try setting a timer on your phone as an external cue that it’s time to switch to the next task.
The good news is, once you figure out what it is that drives (or distracts) you, you can use that to your advantage. Many college students with ADHD are thankful for their hyperfocusing abilities when it comes to studying. The same goes for higher ups at companies who say their hyperfocus drives their productivity.
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