Arrows pointing to the words “Ability to hyperfocus”, “Positive”, and “Problem solver”.

When the World Disappears: Hyperfocus

Hyperfocus is not specifically a trait of any particular neurodivergence, though is associated with many, particularly ADHD.

It is the fixation of attention and complete absorption in a particular task, to the extent that the person unintentionally tunes out everything else. This can include not hearing people calling them, extreme time blindness, interoceptive awareness shutdown, and more.

Like stimming, and having specific interests, hyperfocus is demonstrated by both neurotypical and neurodivergent people. However, there appears to be an increased occurrence in neurodivergent people, and a more extreme exclusion of factors superfluous to the task.

What is It?

There is no formal definition for hyperfocus, which – amongst other things – means there has been minimal research into the physiological and neural activity surrounding it.

People who think ADHD means having a short attention span misunderstand what ADHD is. A better way to look at it is that people with ADHD have a dysregulated attention system.


The generally accepted parameters include:

  1. Hyperfocus is an intense state of focus, concentration, or absorption in a task.
  2. The task has to be fun or stimulating to provoke hyperfocus. This is why common examples include gaming, creative pursuits, and sporting activities. However, provided the activity is adequately stimulating it could also include activities like deep cleaning a garage or messy cupboard, or finishing a spreadsheet for work.
  3. Hyperfocus leads to unrelated external stimuli no longer being consciously perceived, or not being perceived as clearly. It can be seen as a diminished perception of their environment. This could mean sitting down to work on a painting for an intended 20 minutes, and looking up at the clock 5 hours later; or almost having a toileting accident when gaming because they didn’t realise their bladder was full.
  4. Task performance generally improves during a hyperfocus state. There is a general balance of existing skill and additional challenge in the specific task, and the skills required to complete the task are potentially greater than current estimation of skills.
  5. Tasks that induce hyperfocus generally have clear goals / an ending, and a strong sense of direction. 

It is very difficult, if not impossible, to manipulate someone into a hyperfocus state, further decreasing the ability to adequately study and understand this behaviour.

Is it the same as hyperfixation?

While it is very easy (dangerously easy, if given the right opportunity!) to hyperfocus on a task related to a hyperfixation, they are not the same thing.

A hyperfixation is an intense interest or love.

Hyperfixation is not, by definition, unhealthy. It can be a fantastic outlet, means of communication, commonality between peers, and dopamine inducing passion.

However, particularly in relation to ADHD, it can lead to poor time management, neglecting responsibilities, overlooking personal needs, obsession, and anxiety when it is necessary to switch from something related to the hyperfixation to something unrelated.

A hyperfixation could be a particular TV show, a hobby, an author, a topic of interest, an activity, a person, etc. A hyperfocus related to these could be reading about the topic, doing the hobby, or even daydreaming about the hyperfixation.

Should I Disallow It?

Hyperfocus can be problematic for children in ways such as:

  • Having toileting accidents
  • Not doing or finishing required tasks such as getting dressed for school
  • Developing RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) or other injuries from prolonging an activity
  • Skipping meals and becoming dysregulated as a result
  • Aggression or conflict when asked to stop hyperfocus tasks, or when switching between tasks
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • And more

Rather than perceiving hyperfocus as the problem, it is important that you focus on the potential positives of hyperfocus (happiness, contentment, self-regulatory behaviours, learning new skills, improving skills, setting own goals, project outcomes, etc). In doing this, you can then see the negative side effects as the problems that they are, and address these instead.

How Can I Help?

Zero in, perhaps, on what is needed, rather than what is not being achieved.

  • Break your child’s focus on a regular basis and get them to go to the toilet, stretch, drink some water, and have a snack
  • Put measures in place (including gentle supervision) to help them complete responsibilities before the temptation of hyperfocus tasks wins. If your child can’t help but read a book if they see one nearby, make sure that the space designated for getting dressed for school is a book-free zone, for example
  • Distract your child with other activities or tasks if you feel they need a break for the sake of their physical health and safety
  • Work with your child to establish guidelines for finishing tasks, that they feel will cause less conflict. For some children it’s an alarm, for others it’s “warnings” in advance (20 minutes to go, 10 minutes to go, 5 minutes to go…), and some could need something more definite but non-confrontational, like the internet being turned off remotely
  • If hyperfocus tasks are interfering with sleep, discuss this at length during the day – never at the time – to set times that the tasks must stop by. If your child struggles with willpower or self-regulation, ask how you can help. Your child might need you to tuck them in, physically take away the book and put it in another room, and turn the light off, for them not to read until the early hours.

Hyperfocus can be a significant strength when it comes to productivity, insight, problem solving, emotional regulation, mood stabilising, and professional success. Help your child work around the tricky parts, and praise the results of them being in the zone!

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