A large portion of this post was curated from an article by Royce Flippin of ADDitude Magazine
It’s no secret that children and adults with ADHD often struggle to focus on tasks they find uninteresting. High distractibility — children with ADHD who are unable to stay focused on a classroom lecture or adults with ADHD who never get around to doing their paperwork — is a key ADHD symptom and diagnosis criterion.
What you might not know about ADHD is that there’s another side: the tendency for children and adults with attention deficit disorder to focus very intently on things that do interest them. At times, the focus is so strong that they become oblivious to the world around them.
For children, the object of “hyper focus” might be playing a video game or watching TV. For adults, it might be shopping or surfing the Internet. But whatever holds the attention, the result is the same: Unless something or someone interrupts, hours drift by as important tasks and relationships fall by the wayside.
“People who think ADHD means having a short attention span misunderstand what ADHD is,” says Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D., a psychologist in Silver Spring, Maryland, and the author of ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life. “A better way to look at it is that people with ADHD have a dysregulated attention system.”
Like distractibility, hyper focus is thought to result from abnormally low levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is particularly active in the brain’s frontal lobes. This dopamine deficiency makes it hard to “shift gears” to take up boring-but-necessary tasks.
There’s nothing inherently harmful about hyper focus. In fact, it can be an asset. Some people with ADHD, for example, are able to channel their focus on something productive, such as a school- or work-related activity. Others allow themselves to hyper focus on something as a reward for completing a dull but important task.
But unrestrained intense focus is most often a liability. Left unchecked, it can lead to failure in school, lost productivity on the job, and strained relationships with friends and at home.
Best Ways to Intervene
If a child with ADHD tends to get lost in a favorite activity, parents or teachers should first take steps to limit the amount of time the child is allowed to spend on the activity.
“Even if a child is on ADHD medication, playing Nintendo will always be more attractive than studying for a math test,” says Biederman. “So the child should be allowed to play it only in doses — not at the expense of an entire day.”
“If you have a child who hyper focuses on a favorite activity, you’ll need to counter this tendency by being extra-vigilant about limiting the time spent on the activity and about being careful to stick to his schedule,” says Carol Brady, Ph.D., a Houston psychologist. “It can also help to make an agreement with your child ahead of time about when the activity can be done, and when it can’t.”
Aside from the day-to-day disciplines of intervention to help say your child, there is something we here at NeuroHealth Associates can wholeheartedly recommend and that is, you guessed it, neurofeedback.
A neurofeedback regimen will help retrain the brain to think differently in individuals exhibiting ADHD symptoms through several factors including increasing dopamine levels. As we know from the article above, lack of dopamine can make it hard for individuals to find certain tasks interesting enough to “shift gears” and thus they get trapped into things that are more interesting to them, but may not be beneficial or product. (i.e. an adult surfing the web instead of learning valuable skills, or a child playing video games instead of doing homework, etc.)
As you can probably see there could certainly be a benefit from having this hyper focus if it compels the individual to still act as a productive member of society or if their area of hyper focus happens to be something beneficial.
However if they get hyper focused on something unhelpful or very introspective to the point that relationships suffer, then we believe we can help through neurofeedback which is a Level 1 Approach (Most Effective).
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