Hyperfocus or Lack of focus? ADHD problems and misunderstandings

Hyperfocus ....or lack of focus? Almost everyone assumes that ADHD comes with a very short attention span. It is ADHD-with the first D standing for "Deficit." But it’s really more accurate to say that a person with ADHD has an uncontrollable attention span. They have difficulty with what we call "switching mental sets." An executive dysfunction, the part of the brain that controls what you pay attention to and what you don't. A person with ADHD may pay attention to one thing, but not another. And the problem is, it's seldom under their control. Another problem is this switching of focus can be different from day to day. People often observe that on Monday a student was able to do their work (because they were hyper focused) and on Tuesday they could not. Then they accuse the student with ADHD of making a choice to do something ...." because he was able to yesterday! He just needs to take it serious!" Not so. Hyperfocus is the term used to describe when a person with ADHD is immersed in an activity he or she finds interesting - a preferred activity, that is somehow reinforcing. TV, computer games, or occasionally a book might be an activity that one becomes hyper-focused on. But the issue is one of self-regulation. Individuals with ADHD cannot regulate their attention, so they will be engrossed by something they find interesting while neglecting important areas of their lives. They then lose track of time, other things that need to be done, and what is going on in the world around them. This can also lead to social isolation. While there may be situations where we need to really focus to understand something or complete a task, hyper-focus in itself isn't as useful as many coaches and "ADHD is a gift" types would make you think. And when medication is used, often this hyper-focus is lost...and individuals then reject medication. Instead, they need to be taught specific skills to learn to maintain and shift focus appropriate -at will. (But so often I hear the ADHD is a gift types appealing to those with ADHD telling them that instead they need to take "advantage" of their gift .....usually because they don't understand or know of techniques to train attention control.) The best way to approach the issue of attention switching- or switching mental sets - is to use external prompts and cues of significant enough impact to help the individual move from one task to another ....or to stay on a task for a significant period of time. A well trained and licensed/registered mental health professional can guide you along that path, because this is one task where an outside coach is tremendously useful. Below is a short, funny little video on hyper-focus. I don't agree with everything it says, but it's part of a very helpful series that is science based. Hope you enjoy it.