Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, more commonly known as ADHD, is typically perceived as a disorder that causes the sufferer to easily lose focus, thus the word “deficit.” However, people with ADHD are able to hyperfocus, more commonly known as focusing so hardcore, it’s amazing.
People with ADHD can focus so intently, it’s almost creepy.
“When individuals with ADHD hyperfocus on one thing, they tend to block out everything else going on around them,” Kimberly Gordon, a psychiatrist at Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore, told Vice’s Tonic. “The brain sends off signals of activity, pleasure, and engagement as they are immersed in a task while hyperfocused.”
Hyperfocused isn’t “I was working so hard, I missed lunch.” People without the attention disorder can make a decision to plow through a task, but those with the hyperfocus symptom will focus on one task to the neglect of others.
What is happening in the brain of someone with ADHD?
This might all sound incongruent with what you know about the disorder, often called ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) by those outside the medical profession.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is caused by too little dopamine and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters that play a role in your ability to focus.
“In order to get the neurotransmitters we need, people with ADHD latch onto the tasks that stimulate us, like playing a favorite game or reading about a topic we enjoy,” Terena Bell wrote for Tonic. “We can then enter a zone where we’re lost to everything around us, surrendered to a single task.”
ADHD isn’t a “deficit;” It can be a “gift.”
“I see hyperfocus as a gift when applied well,” Elaine Taylor-Klaus, co-founder of Atlanta consultancy group ImpactADHD, told Tonic. “Think surgeons, ER doctors, actors. My daughter [who has ADHD] is an amazingly talented actor, and I think it’s because she can tune out the rest of the world and be completely present in the moment. It’s amazing to witness.”
“When managed, being able to hyperfocus … is a strength that in many cases can lead to real life benefits, such as a successful career in the arts, computer programming, piloting, engineering, conducting surgery — the options are endless, when it is managed under the supervision of a treatment plan.”
Those are two very important words for someone with ADHD — treatment plan. Without treatment, ADHD can take a major toll on your life making car accidents, getting fired from a job or substance abuse more likely. The divorce rate for couples with ADHD is double that of other married couples.
“ADHD is a medical condition and can lead to poor outcomes if untreated,” Gordon said, “but [despite the negatives] no one should get the message that something is wrong with them or be reluctant to seek out treatment.”
“Awareness is a key element in ADHD management,” Taylor-Klaus added. “You can’t recognize hyperfocus and redirect it if you don’t realize that it’s a thing in the first place.”
People who grow up with an attention disorder are often told they’re lazy, not motivated or not applying themselves. While you can’t just do what you like all the time and ignore the rest of life, Gordon told Tonic that there needs to be some out-of-the-box thinking.
“The truth is that children and adults are not always allowed to reach their full potential or learn ways to adapt to how their brain works,” Gordon said, “because society argues that there is only one way to get something done. Parents with children with ADHD must be creative and realistic.”