We expect someone with ADHD to be completely scatterbrained and inattentive; after all, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is characterized by a total lack of concentration and impulse control.  But if this is the case, then why do many ADHD kids spend hours in front of a video game or the television? Aren’t they supposed to be running all over the place?

It’s actually common for many ADHD individuals to “hyperfocus” on certain tasks and activities. Hyperfocus refers to a state of intense concentration.  Although it’s not unusual for a person to be so involved in an activity that he or she loses track of time, those with ADHD experience an extreme form of hyperfocus.  Instead of spending their energies on things that need to be done, individuals with ADHD only focus on the things that interest them, such as video games, sports, books, etc.  They might feel overwhelmed when they try to complete other responsibilities, or experience difficulty accomplishing tasks that do not interest them (e.g., homework in subjects they dislike).  As a coping mechanism, they end up daydreaming, spacing out, or going back to the tasks that interest them. Individuals without ADHD, on the other hand, can follow through with uninteresting tasks without getting derailed or distracted.   They can organize their time, balance their responsibilities, and remember deadlines even when they are stressed by multiple activities.

Hyperfocus is an ADHD trait with the potential for positive consequences.  If harnessed properly, hyperfocus can be used to get homework or chores done. But if left unaddressed, hyperfocus can be a detriment, and the child may end up getting used to focusing only on activities of personal interest.

The key is to find a productive activity that takes advantage of the ability to hyperfocus, and use this to help the child cope with the demands of daily living.  Here are some tips that can help.

  • Help your child discover an interest that develops a skill or talent, such as playing an instrument or a sport, as opposed to passive involvement (e.g., watching television).
  • Use the interest as an incentive to get other tasks done. For instance, if your child likes to go skateboarding, schedule a time for playing outdoors with the agreement that he or she needs to get homework done beforehand.
  • Remove the TV or computer from the study room or your child’s bedroom to prevent distractions.
  • If your child gets too hyperfocused while in front of the TV or the computer, limit the use of these gadgets. You can also set an alarm that will “wake” your child up from the activity so he or she can get back to the task at hand.