ADHD and Hyperfocus: It's a Good Thing

ADHD children hyperfocusThe ability or tendency to hyperfocus is often a characteristic of ADHD.

Even though kids who have ADHD often have a lot of trouble paying attention at school, many of them can easily focus on something they're passionately interested in.

One little boy finally started to read when he was given a book on dinosaurs--his passion! He could focus on dinosaurs all day long.

Although the tendency to hyperfocus in ADHD kids is often considered a negative symptom, I disagree. It can mean the difference between success and failure!

Of course, hyperfocusing isn't always positive. You probably don't want your kids hyperfocusing on violent video games, for example.

But helping them find something positive that they absolutely love can be a real boost to an ADHD kid. Maybe it's a sport? Maybe it's one particular subject at school. Or maybe one specific topic in that subject at school?

Could be dinosaurs, Civil War battles or Egyptian hieroglyphics. Maybe it's a craft or hobby? Making jewelry? Building model cars? Cooking?

Obviously ADHD kids still have togo to school, still need to pass subjects they aren't interested in, do things they'd rather not do. But if we encourage them and offer praise for a job well done in their passionate interest, we build self-esteem while they build skills.

When I was a kid and during the first two years of college, I struggled because of ADHD as I've mentioned before. Now the moment of truth. I came close to flunking out of college! Even though I loved college and was certainly smart enough to succeed, I just couldn't concentrate!

My brain didn't work. And there was no help. Nobody knew about ADHD then. Much less did we have the resources we have today.

Then toward the end of my sophomore year at Colorado College, I took a music history class with Dr. Albert Seay. I loved the material. Couldn't wait for this class. Put everything else aside to learn the intricacies of early Renaissance music notation.

Dr. Seay was also the best teacher I'd ever had. I gobbled up every word, every class, all the homework, every bit of reading, all the listening exercises.

In other words, I was hyperfocusing. And now I was getting enough A's in school to counteract the D's. And my Father was no longer getting letters  informing him that his daughter's grades were so bad that she might be asked to leave.

Granted there aren't a lot of jobs for people who love early Renaissance music notation but my immersion in musicology allowed me to graduate in four years with a bachelor's degree.

Then I went on to graduate school in . . . you guessed it, musicology. I took all my classes, got A's, taught music appreciation to freshmen, and loved every minute. Hyperfocus is all but required in graduate school!

Eventually, time came to write my master's thesis. Now nobody bothered to tell me that hyperfocusing on your master's thesis for three years isn't appropriate but I loved the work.

In the end I got mad at my advisor and threw my finished thesis plus all my notes into the fire before the thesis was submitted. Unfortunately, the ability to hyperfocus has no effect on the tendency we ADHDers have to act impulsively--often shooting ourselves in the foot!

Back to the point. Those of us who have ADHD often do extremely well in things we are passionate about. So help your ADHD kids find something they love to do and encourage this activity.

It helps too if your ADHD child has a teacher flexible enough to encourage your child's interest.  Some charter schools have this flexibility over other more highly-structured schools.

By the way, you don't have to like  what your child likes--needless to say, my parents were totally baffled by my passion for musicology and early Renaissance music notation.

Please let us know how you encourage your ADHD kid. Just leave a comment below.

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About Dr. MaryJo Wagner

MaryJo Wagner, PhD, helps you help your kids transform ADHD behavior for success. Sign up at Coaching & Accountability to get your questions answered with a complimentary Transformation Session.

Comments

  1. I have no children but help my young nephew focus on his Lego. He loves it and it keeps him away from the violent video games that his Dad keeps buying for him.

  2. I use a timer.. It keeps him focused and Sets a time frame. He then can focus on the work instead of thinking it's going to take forever before he can play.

  3. So true! I think sports are one of the best outlets...and art/sculpting/painting. I've seen martial arts work out very well for ADHD kids...especially jiu jitsu and other grappling and wrestling type activities.

    -P

  4. My daughter is now 16, she has ADD, dyslexia and dysgraphia. She took Broadcasting classes where she leaned to do all kind of "fancy stuff" with the computer. She got "in the zone" matching image and sound, morphing faces, etc. She loves it and wants to make it her profession. Her daily regulated opportunities to hyperfocus allowed her to train herself to keep her focus longer in her other classes and she was able to stop taking medication. She changed school and I am now battling the school system to allow her to go to a school that offers those classes. She is looking for something familiar that will help her deal with the new school and going from private to public (larger classes, everything new).

    • Sorry your daughter is having trouble in her new school. If the school system won't allow her to take the classes she needs, there probably isn't much you can do to change that. I would recommend going back to her old school or a similar one.

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