People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may experience hyperactivity, impulsivity, or inattentiveness. However, a less common symptom is hyperfocus. This is a state of fixation on something that interests a person.
Medical professionals describe hyperfocus as unable to shift the attention from events or activities that truly interest a person.
This article covers hyperfocus, a symptom that some people with ADHD experience. It also discusses how to manage hyperfocus, other ADHD symptoms, and general treatment options for the condition.
ADHD most often manifests as hyperactivity, impulsivity, or inattentiveness. However, some people with the condition may experience hyperfocus.
Characterized by very long periods of highly focused attention on something that meets a person’s interests, hyperfocus is a symptom of ADHD that many people view as opposite in nature to the main ones.
In states of hyperfocus, a person may find themselves fully engrossed in work, hobbies, or other activities.
Somebody going through an episode of hyperfocus can sometimes lose interest without any explanation.
It is important to point out that the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) does not list hyperfocus among its diagnostic criteria for ADHD.
The following tips may help make hyperfocus more manageable for children:
- Introduce a schedule for activities that tend to result in hyperfocus. This may involve limiting the time they spend watching television or playing video games.
- Try to make the child aware that hyperfocus is a symptom of their condition. This can help them understand that they need to address it.
- Try using definitive time points, such as the end of a movie, as a signal that the child needs to refocus their attention. This can prevent them becoming engrossed for too long.
- Promote activities that remove them from isolation and that promote being social.
The following tips may help in adults:
- Set timers and reminders to help complete all essential tasks, activities, or chores.
- Set priorities and achieve them step by step. This prevents focusing on one activity for too long.
- Don’t be afraid to ask people in the vicinity to turn off televisions or other distractions if it becomes apparent that hyperfocus is starting to set in.
- Also, try asking people to call or email at specific times. This can help break up intense periods of focus.
Taking medications to treat the overall condition may also help relieve hyperfocus, as well as other symptoms.
The symptoms of ADHD tend to start in childhood and can continue through a person’s teenage and adult years. Common symptoms include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
They typically manifest as:
- feeling restless or fidgety
- talking a lot and interrupting people
- being easily distracted
- finding it hard to concentrate
- saying or doing things without thinking
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a person may have ADHD if they:
- overlook or miss details and make careless mistakes
- have problems paying attention while listening, having conversations, or reading
- find it hard to listen when spoken to
- are unable to follow instructions
- lose focus or get sidetracked easily
- have problems organizing tasks and activities
Some children may have reduced hyperactivity as they become teenagers. However, symptoms such as inattention, disorganization, and poor impulse control may continue into adulthood.
People with ADHD can manage their symptoms using a variety of different treatment options.
These include trying behavior therapy, making healthful lifestyle choices, and taking medications. Many people opt for a combination of all three.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children age 6 and over try a combination of behavior therapy and medication. The guidelines also suggest that children under the age of 6 try behavior therapy before their caregiver seeks a medication recommendation from a doctor.
In behavior therapy, a child will work with a therapist to learn new behaviors to replace those that are problematic. They may also help the child learn to express their feelings in different ways.
Adults, as part of a comprehensive treatment plan (which may include medications and therapy), can learn to manage their condition by exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, and getting plenty of sleep.
Some people with ADHD report experiencing sleep problems, including difficulty getting to sleep, restless sleep, or trouble waking up in the morning. This can worsen the symptoms that they will experience during the day, such as finding it hard to pay attention.
The National Sleep Foundation offer the following tips for creating healthful sleeping habits:
- Have a set bedtime and always get up at the same time.
- Keep the bedroom completely dark and remove all electronic devices at night.
- Avoid consuming caffeine late in the day or entirely.
- Turn off all screens for a quiet hour before bedtime.
People with ADHD often find that medications can help reduce their symptoms. Doctors usually prescribe stimulants for ADHD.
These are usually quite effective. Experts believe that they work by increasing levels of the brain chemical dopamine, which helps people think and pay attention.
However, doctors may prescribe other types of medication depending on how the symptoms of ADHD manifest. For example, guanfacine (a nonstimulant medication) can work to reduce impulsivity.
Antidepressants are another treatment option. Bupropion, for instance, can reduce some ADHD symptoms due to its effects on dopamine and norepinephrine.
People with ADHD may find it difficult to pay attention or to control impulsive behaviors. However, some people with ADHD may experience the opposite: hyperfocus.
Hyperfocus can cause a person to be unable to shift their attention from things that interest them. It usually affects adults with ADHD, though children and teenagers with the condition may also experience it.
People with ADHD tend to manage the symptoms using a combination of medication and behavior therapy.