ADHD: what exactly is hyperfocus?

adhd hyperfocus

It is often claimed that individuals with ADHD have the ability to ‘laser focus’ on a task, and as a result are able to complete much more, much faster, than those without this trait. This is especially true of subjects that the individual is especially interested in. This ability is usually referred to as “hyperfocus”, and is often cited as an ADHD superpower.

But what exactly is hyperfocus, and how does it affect the lives of those with ADHD?

Firstly, what is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological condition that affects people’s behaviour. In the UK, around 1.8 million adults have been diagnosed as having ADHD, but these numbers could be much higher as ADHD often goes undiagnosed.

There are three subtypes of ADHD: the first is characterised by hyperactivity and impulsivity, the second inattentiveness, and the third combined. It can affect a person’s ability to concentrate, sustain attention and control impulsive behaviour.

Hyperfocus: an ADHD ‘superpower’

‘Hyperfocus’ has been defined as “locking on” to a task, especially if the subject is of interest to a person. Those with ADHD might find that they become so consumed by a task that it’s like being under a “hypnotic spell”. Adults with ADHD often report becoming so focused on a task that they forget to eat all day, or don’t realise it has become nighttime. 

The name attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder seems to directly contradict everything that hyperfocus is about. Adults living with ADHD don’t actually have a deficit of attention: it’s more that people with ADHD will focus their attention differently. Although the majority of people with ADHD often present symptoms of inattentiveness, this is often when the task in hand is not of particular interest.

Why can people with ADHD ‘hyperfocus’?

Currently, there is no clear scientific definition of hyperfocus and most of the evidence is in case study or anecdotal form. However, despite this lack of a clear medical definition, there are four general characteristics of hyperfocus that are consistently reported by those with ADHD:

  1. Hyperfocus can be characterised by an intense state of concentration.
  2. When someone is engaged in hyperfocus, there is usually a reduced perception of the environment around them.
  3. To engage in hyperfocus, the task has to be fun or interesting to the individual.
  4. During a bout of hyperfocus, performance at the task in hand generally improves.

Is hyperfocus really a superpower?

Some people with ADHD find that they can hyperfocus on tasks that are useful for their lives or careers, which certainly makes hyperfocus feel like a superpower.

However, others find that they can’t choose what they hyperfocus on, and the things that they can hyperfocus on are not tasks that are “useful” (for example, they may only be able to hyperfocus when playing a computer game). This can be frustrating as the person can get ‘trapped’ in hyperfocus at the expense of being able to do anything useful.

If hyperfocus is a problem, how can an ADHD clinic help?

If you have ADHD and you find hyperfocus to be a problem, a specialist ADHD clinic can help.  We can help to find a treatment path for you that helps manage your ADHD symptoms. We can also find constructive ways for you to use hyperfocus to your advantage, especially in work by looking for tasks that suit your interests.

Specialist ADHD Assessment and Diagnosis Clinic

Sanctum is a specialist ADHD clinic offering a comprehensive, multi-professional assessment for adults and children who may have ADHD. Sanctum’s diagnostic team all have specialist experience of assessing and supporting individuals with ADHD.

Private ADHD clinics such as Sanctum understand that individuals can struggle to live full and happy lives as a result of undiagnosed ADHD, and for that reason long NHS waiting lists are just not an option. This is why private ADHD clinics aim to provide rapid access to assessment.

If you would like to speak to Sanctum’s friendly team about obtaining an ADHD assessment, you can get in touch here


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